In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup

Summer 2006

In this Issue:

The Church and Contraception 
The Church and Abortion 
The Church and Homosexuality 
The Church and State
The Sexual Abuse Scandal 
End Notes

The Church and Contraception

Filipino bishops launch vicious campaign against family planning bill 
A lengthy report in the Manila Standard has exposed the bishops’ new hard-line “shock and awe” policy to ensure that Catholic Filipinos do not use family planning. The policy was introduced to oppose a family planning and reproductive healthcare bill currently going through parliament.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has stated that Catholics, some 85% of the population, who support or use methods of contraception that the hierarchy opposes will be denied communion, baptism, confirmation, wedding and burial rites.

Sister Regina Arguelles of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, one of the people the bishops sent out to promote its policy, said, “The Catholic church believes we need to shock the faithful, scare them and discipline them like children so we could instill in them the teachings of the church. That is the only way to get the church’s message across.”

Throughout the country, bishops and priests have led a high-profile campaign opposing the bill, with lay Catholics, lawmakers, local and national government and health officials and advocates of family planning on the other side.

Part of the bishops’ policy includes a training course over eight successive Sundays for all Catholics over the age of 15, after which they can buy a card showing they have satisfactorily completed the course and are eligible to receive the sacraments.

Rey Remonde, the national advocacy and resource mobilization specialist for the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, has been refused communion. He said, “I have nothing to be guilty about. I have nothing to be ashamed of. They can deny me communion all they want but that would not stop me from continuing my work and my faith in God. I believe what I do is morally right because it will bring good to many people. I was born a Catholic, I am practicing my faith as a Catholic, and I will die a Catholic.”

The Standard reports that some priests have acquired lists of women who had an iud inserted and instructed them to have it removed. In one case, at least 34 of the 48 women acquiesced. A church has also turned away the body of the mayor of Taganaan, Surigao del Norte, because he had not undergone the eight-week course. Poor families have been told that they would have to give up their church funded homes unless they did the course and stopped using birth control.

The hierarchy, however, is not having it all its own way. Compostela Valley Rep. Manuel Zamora has decided to vote for the bill after he surveyed his constituency and found widespread public support for the proposals. He said that he was not surprised that the bishops were using a heavy hand. “During the consultations, when vaginas, penises and babies were already being discussed, the nuns would blush and get angry. The bishops faulted them for the defeat of the Church’s position. The bishops believed they should have sent a Cafgu, a paramilitary group, instead of commanders and generals to the battlefield.”

Bishops suffer defeat in New York courts
New York’s Supreme Court has voted to uphold the state’s Women’s Health and Wellness Act, after an appeal by a coalition of religious groups, including the local bishops’ conference. The act requires employers who offer prescription-drug plans to cover contraceptives. The bishops wanted a wider exemption for religious organizations, beyond those that primarily employ and serve members of their own faith. Richard Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said his organization opposed the bill because “our religious beliefs prevent us from paying for something we teach is sinful.” Supporters of the bill noted that it will help reduce discrimination against women who often have higher out-of pocket healthcare costs than men, partly because of the cost of contraception.

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The Church and Abortion

Report shows Mexico not following its own laws on abortion
A report by the NGO Human Rights Watch shows how Mexican officials actively prevent women who are pregnant after a rape from having an abortion. While abortion is generally illegal in Mexico, all state criminal codes allow women who have been raped to have an abortion.

The report, “The Second Assault: Obstructing Access to Legal Abortion after Rape in Mexico,” details the “disrespect, suspicion and apathy that pregnant rape victims encounter from public prosecutors and health workers.” In addition, the report notes that the law defines incest as consensual sex, meaning that an abortion is not legal after incest.

“Pregnant rape victims are essentially assaulted twice,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “First by the perpetrators who raped them, and then by officials who ignore them, insult them and deny them a legal abortion.”

To view the full report, go to:

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has reported that the Mexican government will pay reparations to a girl who was prevented from having an abortion after being raped at the age of 13. She will receive about $40,000 in legal and medical fees and money to help pay for her son’s education. Officials have also said that they will work to ensure that local prosecutors and healthcare workers comply with the law permitting abortion after rape.

When the girl, Paulina, sought an abortion in 1999, antiabortion activists and government officials did everything to prevent her from having an abortion. Activists visited her in the hospital and showed her pictures of aborted fetuses and the local attorney general then drove her to see a priest who told her abortion was a sin.

“This is a triumph for all women,” said Marta Lamas, founder of the nonprofit Reproductive Choice Information Group (GIRE). “After six years, the government has finally acknowledged that it denied this young woman her rights.”

Come Again?

“The Church is finding a sympathy for its views in a new quarter, among those who want a holistic approach, wanting to work with rather than against the body, and also fear for the environment and the impact of artificial hormones contaminating water supplies.”
– Catherine Pepinster, the editor of the nominally progressive UK Catholic magazine, the Tablet, in a recent paean to the wonders of natural family planning. (“Doing what comes naturally,” Tablet (UK), December 3, 2005)

“So let me propose a new rallying cry: ‘Use NFP: It Doesn’t Work!’ You think I jest. The case for NFP should, by rights, be the case for more babies. NFP proponents tout its 99 percent effectiveness rate, but they neglect to mention that this is true only if the husband is in the Navy and assigned to extended, uninterrupted sea duty of three-year tours or longer. …If there is any validity to [the claim that only 2 percent of NFP couples divorce], I suspect it lies in the fact that NFP couples have no time to communicate. The husband has to hold down several jobs to pay the family’s bills, and a wife with little ones barely has time to shower, let alone talk to her husband, save to pass a pregnancy test result across the breakfast table through splodges of spilt porridge as she sighs, ‘Here’s another fine
mess you’ve gotten me into’.”
— H. W. Crocker III, writing in the very conservative magazine Crisis, explaining what natural family planning actually entails. (“Making Babies: A Very Different Look at Natural Family Planning,” Crisis, December 2004.)

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The Church and Homosexuality

Catholic Charities’ board members resign over gay adoption policy
Eight members of the board of Catholic Charities of Boston have decided to resign rather than support the Catholic social service agency’s policy of prohibiting gay couples from adopting children. Seven signed a statement saying that the decision “threatens the very essence of our Christian mission.” They continued, “We cannot participate in an effort to pursue legal permission to discriminate against Massachusetts citizens who want to play their part in building strong families.” After their announcement, Catholic Charities said that it would stop providing any adoption services.

Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley and Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities, have called for Catholic agencies to be exempt from the state’s antidiscrimination laws, which prohibit discrimination against gays, on religious freedom grounds. The governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has said he may support a very narrow change in the law to allow the exemption, a move expected to face stiff opposition from gay rights groups.

Edward Saunders, the executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, has said that church teaching was unequivocal and that allowing gay couples to adopt “would actually mean doing violence to these children” and was “gravely immoral.” Catholic Charities of Boston has placed 13 children with same-sex couples in the past 20 years—less than two percent of the total—and all of them were in a hard-to-place category, because of their age or special needs.

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The Church and State

Slovak government falls over concordat with the Vatican
The government of Slovakia collapsed after Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda decided to withdraw his party’s support for a treaty with the Vatican. Elections have been brought forward several months to June. The ruling coalition split over the proposed concordat with the Vatican which would have allowed employees to refuse to carry out certain duties if they claimed that to do so would violate their religious beliefs. The tasks potentially ranged from working on Sundays to performing abortions and prescribing contraception. Prime Minister Dzurinda said that the treaty would disadvantage non-Catholics and that the Catholic hierarchy would be able to interfere in civil matters. Slovakia is said to be 70% Catholic.

In 2004, members of the European Parliament’s women’s committee called for an investigation of the treaty, which they said threatened abortion rights (it is legal up to the 12th week of pregnancy in Slovakia) and could mean that Slovakia would be in breach of its equal rights obligations as a member of the EU.

While the Holy See has concordats in place with other member states, including Italy, Latvia and Portugal, this one would have been the most far-reaching; in others, the sections on religious exemptions relate only to military service.

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The Sexual Abuse Scandal

• Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, of the Archdiocese of Detroit, has announced his support for legislation that would loosen the statute of limitations on filing sexual abuse lawsuits against members of the clergy. The hierarchy has vehemently opposed changing the statutes, claiming it would “put an extraordinary burden on the church.” Citing his own experience of being sexually abused as a teenage seminarian and his empathy for “how difficult it is for someone who has been sexually abused to come forward,” Bishop Gumbleton has personally spoken with lawmakers in states where bills are being introduced that would considerably extend the length of time in which victims can file a civil suit.

• The Irish State Claims Agency is suing the Franciscan Brothers to recover its costs after the conviction of John Hannon, a former Franciscan. He was found guilty on 24 counts of sexual abuse. The state had accepted partial liability because the Department of Education was complicit in transferring Hannon to another school after complaints had been made against him. If the state succeeds it could profoundly impact the outcome of over 200 pending civil cases brought by victims against religious orders, congregations and diocesan church authorities running schools.

• After paying out an average settlement of $159,000 to each of 554 plaintiffs alleging they were sexually abused by members of the clergy, the Archdiocese of Boston has announced another large settlement. It is in arbitration with a second group of 88 plaintiffs who have agreed to settle for sums between $5,000 and $200,000.

• The Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland, has published a report acknowledging that 102 of its priests are suspected of physically or sexually abusing at least 350 children since 1940. According to the report, charges against 32 of the priests have already cost the archdiocese $7 million but that amount is expected to rise with at least 40 cases pending. The Irish government is currently in the process of appointing a commission to investigate the history and handling of the sexual abuse crisis across the country.

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End Notes

Opus Dei seeks ‘R’ rating for Da Vinci Code
The ultraconservative Catholic organization Opus Dei has called for the forthcoming film version of Dan Brown’s fictional novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” to be given an adult rating. The book, a bestseller worldwide, proposes a theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that they had children. An Opus Dei spokesman told the news agency Zenit, “Just as we protect children from explicit sex and violence, it would seem to make sense to protect them from violence that is more subtle and thus more insidious.” Calling the tale “absurd and at times somewhat humorous,” he said it might act as “a sort of indirect publicity” for Opus Dei, and that the group would not be organizing any boycott, because that might draw attention to the film, which will be released in May and stars Tom Hanks. The Vatican shares Opus Dei’s circumspection. “You’re only feeding the publicity,” said one official. “I don’t think the Vatican will say much about this movie when it comes out—if anything.”

However, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops clearly did not get the memo about playing down the importance of the film. The US bishops have launched a website refuting the claims made in the novel,

Come Again?

Brokeback Mountain is nothing less than an indictment not just of heterosexism but also of masculinity itself, and thereby of human nature. It’s a jaundiced portrait of maleness in crisis—not only the maleness of the two central characters but also that of every other male character in the film. It may be the most profoundly anti-western western ever made: at once post-modern and post-heroic, post-Christian and post-human.”
— The view of one conservative Catholic film reviewer, Steven Greydanus, the editor of (“Tainted love rides into town,” National Catholic Register, January 8-14, 2006.)

[Brokeback Mountain reveals] “the destructiveness of not being honest with yourself, and not being honest with other people—and not being faithful, trying to live a double life, and what that does to each of the lives you try to live.”
— Archbishop George Niedrerauer, the new head of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. (Rocco Palmo, “Liberal archbishop installed in San Francisco,” Tablet (UK), February 18, 2006.)

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“The Catholic church believes we need to shock the faithful, scare them and discipline them like children so we could instill in them the teachings of the church. That is the only way to get the church’s message across.” 
— Sister Regina Arguelles explains the rationale behind a new “shock and awe” policy implemented by the hierarchy in the Philippines to keep the faithful on the straight and narrow. 

“People are just letting go. People are understanding. It’s 2006. Everybody twists the rules a bit on their way through life.” 
—Declan Walsh, a parishioner of 73-year-old Catholic priest Rev. Maurice Dillane, who admitted fathering a child last year with a local schoolteacher. 

“There is room for both priests who are married and celibate priests in our church.”
—Bishop William Walsh of Killaloe, Ireland. [3]

“I promise you two and a half months of complete sexual abstinence until April 9.”
—Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi seeks the (very) conservative Catholic vote in advance of Italian elections in April. [4]

“Yes, frequently.”
—Berlusconi’s subsequent response when he was asked if he had been faithful to his two wives.

“[The archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, and Vicar-General David Cappo] are now no more than political harlots and goons.”
—Julian Stefani, a Catholic member of Adelaide’s state parliament in Australia, expresses his views on the intricate links between church and state. He later apologized. [6]

“We cannot participate in an effort to pursue legal permission to discriminate against Massachusetts citizens who want to play a part in building strong families…. The course the bishops have charted threatens the very essence of our Christian mission. For the sake of the poor we serve, we pray they will reconsider.”
—From a statement by seven members of the Catholic Charities Board who resigned in protest at the Massachusetts Roman Catholic bishops’ request that Catholic social service agencies be exempt from a law requiring them to place some adoptive children in gay households. [7]

“Nobody has confessed as to what the victims had done. On more than one occasion, they provoked (the men) with what they said.… Men generally do not lose their cool through domination but through weakness: they cannot take any more and react by releasing strength that crushes the woman provoking them….I am saying that a woman’s behavior can attenuate the guilt of a man.”
—Spanish priest Fr. Gonzalo Girones offers his view as to why 63 women were killed by their husbands or partners last year in Spain. [8]

“I don’t have any allergic reaction per se to the subject matter. There are ways it could be treated good and ways it could be treated bad.”
—An unnamed spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago responding to the announcement that students at DePaul University in Chicago can now get a minor in LGBTQ studies. [9]

“If we want to have programs in deviant sexual behavior, why no minor in prostitution? Other than a need to bow to political correctness, why homosexuality particularly? Why no minor in heterosexual activities?”
—Patrick Reilly, president of the ultraconservative Cardinal Newman Society, gives his view on the matter.[10]

“The program was created in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Polish Episcopate.”
—Lidia Deja, a spokesperson for the Warta insurance company, which offers a 20% discount on car insurance for those who provide a certificate from the parish priest confirming their moral conduct and merits to the parish. [11]

“The encyclical: Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll!”
—The view from the conservative Italian newspaper Il Foglio on Pope Benedict’s first encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.” [12]


    1. Christine F. Herrera, “Church adopts tough stance on birth control,” Manila Standard, February 20, 2006.
    2. Brian Lavery, “Scandal? For an Irish parish, it’s just a priest with a child,” New York Times, January 2, 2006.
    3. America, “Signs of the times,” January 16-23, 2006.
  • Pete Kiefer, “Berlusconi chastity countdown,” New York Times, January 31, 2006.
  • Richard Owen, “Abortion pill ban is latest move to woo Catholic vote,” Times (UK), February 1, 2006.
  • Mark Brolly, “Adelaide MP condemns church-state links,” Tablet (UK), February 11, 2006.
  • Jay Lindsay, “Seven Catholic Charities board members resign to protest bishops’ move,” Associated Press, March 1, 2006.
  • Associated Press, “Spanish priest under investigation for suggesting battered women responsible for abuse,” February 15, 2006.
  • Advocate, “Illinois Catholic university to offer queer studies minor,” February 22, 2006.
  • Hilary White, “Chicago Catholic university starts ‘Queer Studies’ program,” Lifesite news, February 8, 2006.
  • Warsaw Voice, “Heard in passing,” January 4, 2006.
  • Ian Fisher, “Benedict a man of his words,” New York Times, January 29, 2006.
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