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Protest at Vatican Embassy Calls Attention to Catholic Hierarchy’s Anti-Women Policies

April 24, 2004

Catholics for a Free Choice leads chorus of worldwide voices in suport of abortion rights, family planning and condom use to prevent HIV

WASHINGTON, DC—Hundreds of protesters from countries around the world, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, and the US, gathered outside the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC today wearing T-shirts and red masks emblazoned with the words: “Your Voice is Fundamental against Fundamentalism.”

They wore lip masks, they waved banners and they sang to call attention to the devastating impact that the Vatican’s positions on reproductive health and sexuality have on the lives of women, men and their families throughout the world.

Addressing the demonstration, Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choices stated:

“Just yesterday, the Vatican again demonstrated that it is out of step with Catholic people as it used the sacrament of Holy Communion to push its political agenda. The Vatican has consistently shown itself to misunderstand the American principle of separation of church and state. This kind of blanket pronouncement will only lower the credibility of US Catholic bishops with ordinary Catholic people. It is time for church leaders to accept that Catholics in good faith disagree with the absolute prohibition of legal abortion demanded by the Vatican. It is time for church leaders to acknowledge that the threat of denying the sacraments to Catholics who disagree with their positions has no basis in church law. It is both bad politics and bad religion.

“It is sometimes hard for Catholics, who are overwhelmingly prochoice on all reproductive health issues, to call their own religious leaders fundamentalists. But the fact is that every form of fundamentalism has as one of its central tenets the control of women’s lives, especially over reproduction. There is no religion that is more rigid in its attempt to control women’s reproductive lives than the Catholic church. No other religion has blanket prohibitions against contraception for married couples and against abortion for all reasons, including when a woman’s life is in danger. The Vatican uses its influence and authority to prevent Catholic hospitals throughout the world from providing education and services that would prevent HIV/AIDS and the loss of women’s lives in childbirth. They deny women access to abortion and emergency contraception. The Vatican is exporting its anti-women, anti-family planning, anti-condom agenda to the rest of the world, and people are dying.”

Catholics make up 23% of the US population, and a full two-thirds of Catholics want abortion to be legal. Sixty-four percent say that the church’s teachings on sexual behavior are outdated and 70% do not believe the bishops should use politics to impose their moral opinions.

Kissling was joined at the Vatican Embassy by leaders of movements for reproductive health, church reform, GLBT rights, and HIV prevention.

“Ending gender discrimination, violence against women and poverty in the 21st century is God’s agenda – an agenda that calls for a re-evaluation of the theological and ethical formulations that exacerbated the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa,” said Pauline Muchina of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. “The success of the struggle against HIV/AIDS in Africa largely depends on how the churches proceed. Will they continue to sanction teachings and practices that perpetuate gender discrimination, which creates an environment where violence against women is tolerated, deny Africans the right to use condoms that may save their lives, or will they end gender discrimination and empower African women to protect themselves from HIV infection and all forms of violence against them?”

Certain Catholic cardinals and bishops have recently claimed that condoms were helping to spread HIV/AIDS. But Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa both spoke recently in favor of condoms as an AIDS prevention tool. Bishop Dowling stated in a recent issue of US Catholic, “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.”

Carmen Barroso of the International Planned Parenthood Federation assailed the Bush administration for the “Global Gag Rule,” a policy that denies women overseas access to information about safe and legal abortion. “The gag rule … deprives disadvantaged women throughout Latin America of vital, life-saving reproductive health services,” said Barroso. “We oppose with equal vehemence the anachronistic policies of the Catholic church, which bans the use by women and men in Latin America and throughout the world, of contraceptives and almost all other forms of modern family planning, condemning them to poverty and ill health.”

Speakers at the protest also raised the issue of the Vatican’s influence over domestic policies.

“The Vatican’s unwarranted intrusion into people’s private lives and their insistence on focusing only on matters of sexual morality to the exclusion of other important topics brings us to this protest today,” said Matthew Gallagher, executive director of DignityUSA, the national organization representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics. “We must speak out against their misplaced influence in politics and society and call upon those leaders of the Catholic church to fulfill their call to seek justice for all people.”
New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane echoed this call, and added, “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we vocalize our support for a woman’s right to choose. As a feminist, a Catholic and a legislator I am proud to be prochoice. I am appalled that in this day and age, we are still fighting the same battles over freedom of choice. The Bush administration has launched an assault on the women of America. I am proud that people are fighting back.”
Speaking of the weekend’s events, Kissling, said:

“We are here to send a message to the Vatican, the US government, and the world that Catholics are prochoice. We want to make it clear that Catholic people both in this country and worldwide support family planning. Catholics support condom use to prevent the spread of HIV. Catholics believe in emergency contraception and comprehensive sexuality education as means of preventing unintended pregnancy. Catholics believe that women must have the right to make personal, private decisions about when, whether, and how to have children.”

Protestors left hundreds of red flowers at the steps of the Vatican Embassy to symbolize the half a million women who die each year from pregnancy-related causes, including unsafe, illegal abortions.

—Statement ends—