In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup
Winter 2003-04

In this issue:

The Church and HIV/AIDS
The Church and State
Church Reform
The Sexual Abuse Crisis
End Notes

The Church and HIV/AIDS

Vatican Reiterates Position on Condoms; Catholics and Medical Experts Respond
Despite international outrage over its continued opposition to the use of condoms, the Vatican marked World AIDS Day with a five-page defense of its scientifically incorrect position. The statement, issued by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, stated that the best way to stop the spread of the AIDS virus in a “pan-sexualist society” is by “respecting the religious and moral values of sexuality and matrimony, namely fidelity, chastity, and abstinence.” The cardinal defended the Vatican’s decision “to present this as the main way for the effective prevention of infection and spread of HIV/AIDS, since the phenomenon of AIDS is a pathology of the spirit.”

The Vatican document comes in the wake of a statement by Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo’s on a recent edition of the British Broadcasting Corporation news program Panorama. In an interview broadcast on the program he said, “the AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom.” Representatives from UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, Christian Aid and the United Nations Population Fund immediately rejected this assertion. The WHO declared, “These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million.” The WHO maintains “consistent and correct” use of condoms reduces transmission by 90 percent.

Representatives of more than 20 Catholic organizations, including DignityUSA, Women-Church Convergence, the National Coalition of American Nuns and Catholics for a Free Choice, signed a letter to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. It said, “We believe that the Catholic church should lift the ban on condoms as a moral and humanitarian matter. But, if not, the church should at the very least be clear that its objections to condoms as a means of HIV/AIDS prevention are ecclesiastical, not scientific. Accordingly, we call upon you and your fellow bishops… to repudiate the incorrect information that has been circulated by officials of the Catholic church, and we strongly urge you to be scrupulously honest in describing the effectiveness of condoms in the future.”

Members of the gay rights organization ACT UP protested outside the Vatican’s office at the United Nations in New York. Dressed up in massive condoms, the protesters carried signs stating, “Condoms Prevent AIDS, Cardinals Don’t.”

Condoms4Life Promotes a Culture of Life
World AIDS Day saw the launch of a new global public education effort to counter Vatican misinformation on condoms and end the Catholic bishops’ ban on condoms. Using the message, “Good Catholics Use Condoms,” the campaign is a new phase in the Condoms4Life campaign starting in Washington, DC, and then moving worldwide. Throughout 2004, newspaper and billboard ads, internet action alerts, and educational materials geared to reach Catholics at risk of HIV/AIDS with the truth about condoms will appear in selected cities in Latin America, North America and Africa.

Sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice, the Condoms4Life campaign has praised those bishops who support a change in church policy. For example, Bishop Kevin Dowling from Rustenburg, South Africa, has spoken out in favor of condoms as an AIDS prevention tool. In the current issue of U.S. Catholic, Bishop Dowling has written an article entitled “Let’s not condemn condoms in the fight against AIDS,” in which he states, “I believe our credibility as a church is on the line here…. For me, the condom…question is not simply a matter of chastity but of justice.”

“We cannot stand by and let the Vatican go unchallenged with its irresponsible attitude towards condoms and Catholics,” stated Frances Kissling, president of CFFC. “Cardinals and bishops must promote a culture of life in which responsible sexuality and AIDS prevention are linked; not a culture of death which will result in more AIDS ravaged communities, especially in the developing world. Catholics need to know that using condoms doesn’t make one a bad Catholic. In fact, using condoms to protect themselves and their partners is part of being good Catholics.”

Visit the Condoms4Life website at

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The Church and State

Chilean Hierarchy Steps Up Fight Against Divorce 
While Chile has taken a step closer towards legalizing divorce, the church hierarchy has indicated that it will not end its fight against the bill. Final passage of the bill will leave only two countries, Malta and the Philippines, where divorce will still be illegal. The bill may become law in early 2004, and was finally passed after six years of struggle, despite polls consistently showing that up to 70 percent of Chileans support an easing of the divorce law.

The bill still presents many problems, especially related to the waiting periods involved. In order to get divorced by mutual consent, couples will have to wait three years, but if the divorce is contested, the waiting period rises to five years. However, if one of the petitioners can show that the other is, for example, gay or an alcoholic, they will be able to get a divorce much more quickly.

The hierarchy of the Catholic church fought the bill through parliament and is expected to lobby heavily before it is signed into law. The church urged adoption of long waiting periods and wants Chile’s Catholics, before they marry, to be offered a chance to sign a legally binding pledge rejecting divorce. “Everything should be done to avoid this rupture,” said the Rev. Jaime Fernandez, the head of the church’s Vicarate for the Family in Chile.

Until now, wealthy Chileans have sought annulments, available through the courts, which decree that the marriage never existed. Some 6,000 annulments take place each year and President Ricardo Lagos and his wife both got annulments of their previous marriages. Reformers say this system is demeaning and discriminates against the poor who can’t afford a lawyer. Others merely choose not to marry—as evidenced by the number of children born to unmarried parents, which rose from 23 percent in 1990 to 39 percent in 2001. Ironically, the new law may block access to the widely-used annulment process, thereby making it more difficult to separate from one’s partner.

During its campaign against the bill, the church hierarchy sponsored television advertisements claiming that children from broken marriages are more likely to use drugs, break the law and commit suicide. However, the hierarchy pulled the ads after Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, Archbishop of Santiago, acknowledged that the ad had generated strong criticism in the local media, and may have made some children of separated couples feel bad. “We have to take seriously that they have felt stigmatized. So I believe it is better to discontinue airing the statistical portion of the campaign,” he said.

Catholic Lawmakers Reproach Bishop over Rebuke 
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Catholic politicians have accused a Catholic bishop of violating the separation between church and state by advising elected officials to tailor policy making decisions to church teachings. In letters to three Catholic elected officials, Bishop Raymond Burke of La Crosse warned that they “risk their spiritual well-being” if they did not change the way they voted on issues such as abortion and contraception.

US Representative David Obey, a Democrat, said, “Under the Constitution, the public has a right to know that, in the end, the votes I cast are driven by my own independent judgment and conscience, not by a set of marching orders given by any church hierarchy, prelate or associated lobby group.” William Bablitch, a Catholic who retired from the state Supreme Court in 2003 and previously served in the state Senate, said Burke’s letter went too far. “Certainly, the bishop has every right to express his own views to an elected official. But to invoke the moral authority of the church in a threatening way to a legislator seems to cross over a line that has been very carefully drawn and is very well-respected in this country,” he said.

State Representative Pedro Colon, also a Democrat and Catholic, said lawmakers must separate personal religious beliefs from policy making. “It’s not for people to decide whether I’m a bad Catholic because I’m going about my job in a consistent way. That’s for God to decide,” he said. “I never thought my salvation would be a topic for public debate.”

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Church Reform

Infighting in the Vatican over New Mass “Rules” 
There are reports of infighting in the Vatican over draft rules aimed at cracking down on “abuses” in the Catholic Mass. The rules propose that altar boys will be preferred to altar girls, who should serve only when there is an unspecified “just pastoral cause.” Conservatives have expressed concern that having altar girls might lead to a female priesthood. “Priests should never feel obligated to seek out girls for this function,” the draft regulations state. The Vatican gave bishops the authority to allow altar girls to serve at Mass in 1994, and they serve widely in the US and elsewhere.

The proposed rules appeared in the Italian magazine Jesus. The rules state that priests may not allow ministers of other Christian denominations to participate in the Mass, unless authorized by a member of the hierarchy. Readings from texts other than the Bible will be forbidden, as will applauding and dancing during religious services. All Catholics, ordained and lay, will be encouraged to denounce “abuses” of the regulations to their bishops, or even to the Vatican itself.

A Vatican official suggested that the early publication of the draft was intended by opponents inside the Vatican to create controversy in order to weaken some of the more restrictive proposals. “This premature news is creating a journalistic sensation that is not helpful,” he said.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Catholic magazine America, said, “We had a whole generation of girls and women angry that they could not be servers at Mass. We don’t need this grief.”

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The Sexual Abuse Crisis

News Roundup 
• The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has been fined the maximum allowable, $10,000, for failing to report sexually abusive priests during the 1970s and 1980s. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk pleaded no contest just before a grand jury was to hear testimony. The archdiocese has established a $3 million fund to compensate people who have been sexually abused by priests.

• New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership has called on the Vatican to remove Bishop John McCormack and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian of New Hampshire because of their loss of moral authority during the sexual abuse crisis.

• The Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is to pay $40 million to 21 people who said they were abused by priests.

• The Archdiocese of Boston will sell the archbishop’s residence in an attempt to raise the $85 million it owes in settlement for claims arising from the sexual abuse crisis.

• Irish bishops have apologized over the church’s handling of sexual abuse cases in a 332-page report released in early December. Two years in the writing, “Time to Listen: Confronting Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy in Ireland,” makes 19 recommendations for protecting children, handling complaints and preventing future abuse.

• It is thought that the Irish government may have to pay out more than $1.1 billion in compensation to people abused by Catholic priests. Religious orders will pay out some $150 million and the government underwrote the remainder. The prime minister has stated that he does not wish to bankrupt any religious orders, so will stand by the deal—despite accusations from the opposition of wasting taxpayers money.

• Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre in Long Island has instructed a priest in the diocese not to publish an article calling for church officials “tainted” by the sex abuse scandal to resign. A spokeswoman said that Murphy “didn’t silence anyone, he simply told a priest what canon law says about things that are published in the secular media.” According to the magazine Newsday, Vincent Branick, professor of religion at the Catholic University of Dayton, described the move as “absolutely horrible. To silence discussion because it is disagreeable is an abuse of power.”

• The Diocese of Covington in Kentucky has agreed to pay some $5.2 million to 27 people who were sexually abused by priests during the 1960s and 1970s.

• The head of the board appointed by the US bishops to monitor dioceses’ responses to the sexual abuse crisis has said that 76 percent of dioceses have provided the information required. A full report is due in February 2004.

• Financial donations to US parishes increased in 2002 by 4.9 percent ($20 million), but donations to bishops’ appeals fell by 2.3 percent ($14.7 million). Half of the latter drop was in Boston, where the sexual abuse scandal hit hardest. In a Gallup poll reported by the New York Times, 75 percent of Catholics wanted more financial accountability from church leaders.

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End Notes

Healthy Profit for CHA Head 
Modern Healthcare reports that the Catholic Health Association—the trade association representing some 2,000 Catholic health care providers in the US—paid Father Michael Place, its chief executive, $739,335 in 2003, a ten percent increase on his 2002 salary, despite the CHA posting a loss of almost $1 million in revenue of $16.1 million.

Pope Chastises Anglican Leader
Pope John Paul II brought attention to the divisions between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches over the ordination of homosexual clergy during a brief meeting with the head of the Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams. “As we give thanks for the progress that has already been made,” the pope said, “we must also recognize that new and serious difficulties have arisen on the path to unity. These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature; some extend to essential matters of faith and morals.”

The Anglican church is itself split over the recent ordination of a gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. He said he would do everything he could to help to heal any rift but he did not think that his appointment would make a big difference to ordinary Christians around the world. The Ugandan church subsequently split with Canterbury over the issue.

New Cardinal Causes Furor over Radical Views 
The bishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland, the Most Reverend Keith O’Brien, caused a major row when, the day after it was announced the pope was to elevate him to the rank of cardinal, he made several comments questioning some core elements of Vatican teaching. O’Brien stated that the church’s rule of celibacy for priests and its ban on contraception should be subjects for discussion.

A week later, when O’Brien was reciting the Nicene Creed, a standard profession of faith used in church services, he added an extra paragraph, which stated in part, “I further state that I accept and intend to defend the law on ecclesiastical celibacy as it is proposed by the Magisterium of the Catholic church; I accept and promise to defend the ecclesiastical teaching about the immorality of the homosexual act; I accept and promise to promulgate always and everywhere what the church’s Magisterium teaches on contraception.”

A spokesman for the bishop denied that O’Brien had inserted the extra paragraph under pressure from the Vatican, saying that O’Brien merely wanted to “clarify” his position.

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“Look out the window. What kind of state do I have here? You can see my whole state right from this window.”
— Pope John Paul II, in response to an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia as a head of state. [Daniel Williams, “For ailing pope, many projects remain unfinished,” Washington Post, October 7, 2003.]

“The loss of celibacy would give great liberty to priests to exercise their God-given gift of love and sex rather than feeling they must be celibate all their lives. It would not cause me any great worry if it was to go…. If ten percent of men are gay then it’s a reasonable assumption that ten percent of priests and ten percent of bishops are gay, but it is what you do about it. If they are living a celibate life then God bless the men.”
 Archbishop Keith O’Brien, the day after the pope announced that O’Brien was to be made cardinal. [Ian Swanson, “O’Brien in challenge to Catholic traditions,” Edinburgh Evening News, September 30, 2003.]

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I can’t stand the sight of two men kissing.”
— Cardinal Józef Glemp, Primate of Poland, gives his thoughts on legalizing homosexual partnerships.[Warsaw Voice, “Heard In Passing,” October 29, 2003.]

“Either Europe is Christian or it is not Europe.”
— The headline in the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, after the European Parliament voted on a constitution that omitted any mention of God or Christianity. [Richard Bernstein, “Continent wrings its hands over proclaiming its faith,” New York Times, November 12, 2003.]

“Dissenters are tapeworms.… The tapeworm is an alien, no matter how intimate and ‘inside’ it may be, no matter how furiously it insists it is feasting at the same table as the baby.”
— The unnamed author of the “Last Word” column in the magazine, Catholic World Report. [“Diogenes,” “Tapeworms—or why loyal dissent is impossible in the church,” Catholic World Report, October 2003.]

“In African culture it is important that you are remembered through your children. This might cause suffering for some African priests who are just going to die and be forgotten about.”
Father Dabula Mpako, secretary general of the African Catholic Priests Solidarity Movement, explaining why some priests have “unhealthy relationships” with nuns.
[Gunther Simmermacher, “South African priests issue apology to black nuns,” National Catholic Reporter, September 5, 2003.]

“What’s interesting isn’t that there are fewer people in church, but that there are any at all.”
 Father Jean Francois Bordarier of Lille, northern France. [Frank Bruni, “The changing church: faith fades where it once burned strong,” New York Times, October 13, 2003.]

“Catholics use contraceptives as much as anyone else and only four percent of married Catholic couples of childbearing age practiced natural family planning.”
— From a report on natural family planning issued by the US bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities.[Daniel J. Wakin, “Bishops open a new drive opposing contraception,” New York Times, November 13, 2003.]

Picking out the gay child:
“If one son in a family is different from his brothers;
if a boy is not involved in sports;
if he is a loner who spends endless hours on the Internet;
if, as an adolescent, he spends much time with one
or two other boys who are also loners;
if most of his close friends are girls;
if he has feminine mannerisms;
if he has a distant relationship with his father;
and if he tends to prefer his sisters to his brothers.
Very often a child with same-sex attractions is the youngest in a family.”

— Father John Harvey, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, and founder of Courage, a Vatican-approved group on homosexuality. [Zenit, “Recognizing and treating same-sex attractions in children,” November 16, 2003.]

“There’s a name for Catholics who dissent from church teachings. They’re called Protestants.”
— Father C. John McCloskey III, Opus Dei member and director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC. [Charles P. Pierce, “The Crusaders,” Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, November 2, 2003.]

“When it comes to contraception as a policy issue—access, availability—the Catholic bishops do not get involved in that debate.”
— Cathy Cleaver Ruse, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. [Gina Kolata, “Debate on selling morning-after pill over the counter,” New York Times, December 12, 2003.]

Catholics for Choice