Catholic Bishops put Lives at Risk in the Name of “God”

The Filipino Struggle for Reproductive Health Rights & Justice

There has been a long struggle for reproductive health (RH) rights in the Philippines. This is not uncommon as there are many countries where some aspects of reproductive rights are not guaranteed. However, the Philippines is one of five countries worldwide with no reproductive health law.

Many pro-RH activists have come about as a result but they are outnumbered by the power of conservative Filipino Catholics. Not all Catholics are conservative and opposition to reproductive rights is led mainly by the Hierachy of the Catholic Church. Activists are fighting for access to contraceptives and family planning education – something many of us young people in North America, Latin America, Caribbean, Europe and parts of Africa take for granted. Most of my friends are at this stage advocating comprehensive sex education and universal access to contraceptives, even for persons below the age of consent in their country. Many of us are unaware of the ongoing struggles in the Philippines for reproductive rights and justice.

The Philippines at a Glance
Like my own country, Jamaica, abortion is illegal in the Philippines. In 2000, former Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza made the situation worse when he passed a blanket ban on all forms of contraception in Manila City. Although there are 4,000 new births daily, which continue to hamper the country’s economic growth, women in the Philippines are unable to prevent pregnancy, even when it would jeopardize their lives, health, or ability to feed their families. The consequences of this — poverty, spousal abuse, illiteracy, hunger, among others are the lived experience of many Filipinos.

Pro-RH advocates continue to challenge this grave violation of the human rights of Filipino’s, especially women, despite much opposition from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has threatened to excommunicate any politician who supports the Reproductive Health Bill. You can’t help but ask “why are they so intent on violating the human rights of Filipinos and perpetuating their suffering in the name of God?”

There are over 90 million persons living in the Philippines; 85 percent of them are Catholic. I am not Catholic, nor do I know much about Catholicism. I am not atheist. I must also confess that my understanding of the Catholic’s position on reproductive rights and justice is perhaps a biased one. You could easily blame this on my own beliefs, religious and otherwise, and the video documentary “Trouble with the Pope.” I decided to write this blog because I believe every human, regardless of their religious persuasion, should have a right to protection from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and unplanned pregnancies.

I am happy that not all Filipinos (perhaps not the majority) support the conservative views of some Catholics. According to a survey conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS), a public opinion polling body, 71 percent of Filipinos are in favour of the passage of the RH Bill. 76 percent also want family planning education in public schools. This would be a step in the right direction to provide universal access to methods and information on birth control and maternal care. This would be welcomed with open arms in many of our countries.

Catholic groups have said that the RH Bill promotes a “culture of death and immorality” by promoting abortion and promiscuity among youth. What about the freedom of choice — a fundamental human right? I guess this has its distinctions too.

Reproductive Health Rights Are Important
It is very important that we all remember family planning is a fundamental human right. Any attempt to take this away from a man or woman constitutes discrimination. In 2008, based on an investigation led by the Centre for Reproductive Rights, twenty women from Manila City filed a case claiming that the policy violated their rights and should be removed. The case was dismissed on technical grounds.

I visited the Anti-RH BILL (Philippines) page on the popular social networking website, Facebook, to learn more about why people are so opposed to something so very important to millions of Filipinos. The comments that were in English were shocking to say the least. Many of them are the same we would hear when we talk about abortion in the United States or even in Jamaica.

A comment from one user was:

SEX is for MARRIED LIFE which they can PRO-CREATE. After having babies, it’s their decision for doing NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING or ABSTINENCE if they want to.
Where did we get the idea that relationships are for the sole purpose of procreation? And if that is the case, does it mean then that a relationship between a woman and man, where one is infertile is illegitimate? Where does love, adoration and companionship find place in relationships then? Furthermore, if a couple decides they only want two children, since we know that withdrawal (a natural family method) isn’t very effective should they stop having sex or wait to have sex until they are ready to have children? Who told Catholics that sex isn’t for enjoyment too?

Another user said:

Protect Lives, Preserve the Productivity of the Nation, Protect our Moral Values
The rates of unintended pregnancy in the Philippines are high. Where does the protection of the lives of poor women who struggle to feed numerous children while living in abject poverty come in? Public hospitals are a hub for those who resort to unsafe abortion. Contraception save lives. That is what everyone in the Philippines should care about.
http://tinyurl.com/3lb2k22

Catholic Bishops War Against Feminists in Costa Rica

A struggle between the Catholic Church and feminist groups deepened Tuesday in Costa Rica, when the bishops denounced the “Marcha de la Putas” (Slutwalk) held Sunday in front of the Cathedral in San José was “insulting” to Christianity and violated “rule of law. “

“Unfortunately, what was apparently a statement against sexual harassment and violence against women, became a protest violation of public morality and the rule of law,” said the Conferencia Episcopal (Episcopal Conference).

“Also, ‘the March’ in question was clearly defamatory and offensive to the Christian faith, which has identified and identifies the vast majority of Costa Ricans,” added the eight Costa Rican bishops in a statement.

The note of the bishops referred to the “Marcha de la Putas” which gathered on Sunday hundreds of people, especially women, to repudiate what they saw as sexist and patriarchal statements of the Catholic hierarchy.

“Soy puta, soy ramera, me visto como quiera” (I’m a bitch, I’m a whore, I dress as I want) shouted the protesters from the Central Park of San José, across the Cathedral, to those leaving Sunday morning mass.

A woman with bare breasts and her knees was fastened with heavy chains by a man dressed as a priest while he devoured rosaries and a parody of the submission that the Church has always exercised over women.

The “Marcha de la Putas” which has been performed in cities around the world to denounce sexual abuse and other forms of violence against women in Costa Rica had a deeply anticlerical tone, after Bishop Francisco Ulloa called on August 2, for women to dress “modestly.”

“My intervention was advice not mandatory, but based on the theology of the body of Pope John Paul II on modesty and decency that should be intrinsic to the woman who appreciates his sacred body of God,” was justified Ulloa Tuesday .

Ulloa sparked this conflict in his homily at a Mass celebrating the Virgen de los Angeles, the patron saint of Costa Rica, in the Basilica de La Virgen de Los Angeles, in Cartago during the “romeria” celebrations.

http://tinyurl.com/3z738mx

Catholic Bishop: Children from broken homes are “born losers”

A Catholic bishop has stated that children growing up in broken families are “born losers” and could become troublesome adults.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Bishop of Elphin Christopher Jones said that he had seen first-hand from working in social services in the 1960s and 1970s that children from such backgrounds grew up “disturbed and dysfunctional”.

The Sligo bishop did however state that he felt single mothers in society were giving a “heroic” effort and that our reaction to marraige breakdown should be one of compassion.

Telling of his time with children from broken homes, Bishop Jones undeniably used quite harsh language to describe the situation:

“Many of them were born losers,” he told the broadsheet. “They had no start in life in terms of a loving relationship… They grow up disturbed and dysfunctional.

“When a culture of marriage weakens, an ever-growing number of children will never experience the inestimable value of being raised by a loving, married mother and father.

“This is not to say that children cannot thrive outside of the marital family but if we really value childhood, then we must do what we can to try and ensure that children are raised by the fathers and mothers who bring them into the world,” he added.

http://tinyurl.com/3w3bmbb

Over 100 Spanish groups call for protest against papal visit

Over 100 Spanish organisations on Friday urged protesters to hit the streets of Madrid on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s arrival next week to demonstrate against the public cost of his visit.

The organisations — a mix of groups representing gays and lesbians, feminists as well as leftist political parties — estimate thousands of people will take part in the march on Wednesday evening.

The pope will arrive in Madrid on Thursday to lead the last four days of the Roman Catholic Church’s six-day World Youth Day celebrations.

“We are completely in agreement that they come, but we don’t agree that a private event be financed with everyone’s money,” the president of Madrid Association of Freethinkers and Athiests, Luis Vega, told a news conference.

March organisers estimate World Youth Day will cost the government more than 100 million euros ($140 million) if 500,000 people attend.

Church officials estimate over one million people will take part in the event, which includes religious processions, concerts, outdoor masses and cultural exhibits.

More than 10,000 police are on duty to avoid incidents during the event and public schools and gyms will house thousands of young people who will flock to Madrid for the festivities.

The Madrid metro is also offering pilgrims who come to the city for the event a heavily discounted weekly pass.

“We are not organizing an anti-pope protest, we are defending a secular state that does not use public money to benefit a few,” said Evaristo Villar, the spokesman for Redes Cristianas, an association that groups progressive Catholic organisations.

“The ostentatiousness of this event during such an enormous economic crisis, has no place in a society that has nearly five million unemployed and where so many people are going through tough times.”

Spain is struggling to recover from an 18-month recession that began in late 2008 and left it with a eurozone-high unemployment rate of just over 20 percent and a bloated deficit.

World Youth Day organisers say the event will cost just 50.5 million euros to stage, excluding security expenses, with the bill funded 80 percent by contributions and the rest covered by donations from corporations.

They argue the event will provide Spain with an economic boost of more than 100 million euros and help promote the country as a tourist destination.

http://tinyurl.com/4y4knva

Archbishop tries to evade responsibility for clergy sex abuse

Five years ago, a handful of Colorado legislators sought to make it easier for victims of decades-old sex abuse to sue their tormentors and the organizations that protected them.
The Archdiocese of Denver fought back hard.

The state’s Catholic hierarchy — through jeremiads delivered from the pulpit and alliance-building with municipal interest groups and teacher unions — turned an initially popular bill to extend the civil statute of limitations on sex crimes into something politically toxic. By the end of 2006, the bill was dead on the statehouse floor.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, then head of the state’s largest archdiocese, stood at the center of that debate.

His vocal opposition made him an enemy to victims’ groups, who viewed his political protest as a cunning effort to protect church coffers. But to those who saw their church as under siege from profiteers, Chaput emerged a hero.

‘‘They thought they were fighting for their lives,’’ said Annemarie Jensen, a political strategist who lobbied for the bill on behalf of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. ‘‘It was about as ugly a political fight as I’ve been involved with at the Capitol.’’
Chaput — who is set to take the helm of Philadelphia’s archdiocese next month — says he was just doing his job.

‘‘The Catholic Church wants to be treated like citizens with equal access to protection of the law,’’ Chaput said at a news conference in Philadelphia last month. (The Denver Archdiocese did not make him available for an interview for this article.) ‘‘That’s all we were asking for in Colorado.’’

Little resistance
Since the nationwide church scandal began about a decade ago, five states have passed bills temporarily reopening the civil statute of limitations on sex-abuse cases. Eight others, including Pennsylvania, have considered them.

This so-called window legislation allows victims to seek justice years after their abuse by temporarily extending the period in which they can file claims. Although none of the adopted bills specifically mention the Catholic Church, archdioceses became the primary targets of litigation in each of the states that have passed them.

In California, one of the first to pass such legislation, more than 850 claims flooded courthouses during the one-year window that legislators opened, costing the church millions in damages and settlements.

The Diocese of Wilmington declared bankruptcy in 2009 after it was named in more than 175 suits following the state’s passing of a two-year window. Last month, a judge agreed to a reorganization plan that includes a $77.4 million settlement for clergy sexual abuse. Last week, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales agreed to pay $24.8 million in suits filed by 39 survivors of priest sex abuse in Delaware.

But before the Colorado fight, Catholic bishops had responded to window bills with begrudging acceptance — such measures were seen as a necessary evil to heal the rifts clergy abuse had caused.

California’s church hierarchy barely pushed back when that state’s bill passed in 2002. In Ohio, bishops appealed to state lawmakers quietly and directly to help kill a bill in 2005.
Colorado’s bill, introduced in 2006, differed little from its predecessors elsewhere. It proposed lifting the statute of limitations on sex-abuse cases going forward and opening a two-year window for expired claims.

At that point, the Denver Archdiocese had had a relatively minor brush with the sex-abuse scandal involving fewer than 20 lawsuits with allegations involving only two priests. Chaput later offered victims in those cases a mediation process that resulted in $5.5 million to settle most of their claims.

‘A duty I can’t avoid’
But his response to the bill marked a sharp break. Chaput spoke out, condemning the legislation as ‘‘unfair, unequal, prejudicial,’’ and anti-Catholic. He took to the Catholic press, accusing colleagues in other states of acquiescing out of an overabundance of ‘‘guilt, confusion, and a desire to take what they perceive to be the ‘high road.’ ’’
‘‘I have an obligation — a duty I can’t avoid — both to help the victims and to defend innocent Catholics today from being victimized because of earlier sins in which they played no part,’’ he said in an interview that year with the national Catholic newspaper Our Sunday Visitor.

Marci Hamilton, a Bucks County, Pa., lawyer who has represented several victims of clergy abuse and whose 2008 book ‘‘Justice Denied’’ tracked statute-of-limitations fights across the country, described Chaput’s outspokenness as just the first element in the Denver Archdiocese’s multipronged opposition to the bill.

‘‘It was Chaput who decided public relations would change the course of this fight versus any other tactic,’’ she said. ‘‘Things changed with Chaput’s packaging in Colorado.’’
What separated the Denver Archdiocese’s response from those that had come before was its direct appeal to the public and a degree of savvy political maneuvering unseen elsewhere.

Within weeks of the bill’s introduction, Chaput sent a letter to all parishes to be read from the pulpit during Sunday Mass. The missive excoriated the legislation as unfairly targeting the Catholic Church while ignoring sex abuse in other institutions.
State Rep. Gwyn Green, a sponsor of the legislation, recalls jumping from the pew of her parish in the Denver suburbs the day the letter was read and objecting to what she described as a blatant misrepresentation of her bill.

Nearly 25,000 protest cards were distributed to those attending Masses, asking them to sign and mail them to their state representatives.

‘Full-blown war mode’
‘‘The archdiocese went into full-blown war mode,’’ said John Kane, a religion professor at Jesuit Regis University in Denver. ‘‘They worked through the parishes. They rallied straight from the altar. It was a full-court press in the media and everywhere else.’’
Behind the scenes, the church’s political arm, the Colorado Catholic Conference, hired one of the state’s top lobbying firms, owned by the former campaign manager of then-Gov. Bill Owens, to run the ground game on legislative votes.

It began by appealing to the Catholic faith of several top legislators and leaking stories to the media that plaintiff attorneys had helped craft the bill.

(The bill’s leading sponsor, Colorado Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, later opened her files to show she had had only minimal contact with plaintiff attorneys, including Hamilton.)
From the start, the archdiocese had characterized the proposals as unfair, noting they would affect private institutions such as the church but exempt governmental entities such as school districts.

School districts and other public institutions were protected under Colorado law by immunity from the worst of civil suits. State law gives plaintiffs six months after an incident to file claims and caps damages at $150,000.

Window-bill backers argued such limitations were appropriate because taxpayers funded these government entities, which were also required to share their files under open-records laws. Private institutions, meanwhile, could opt to shield records of abuse from public review.

But church lobbyists pushed. And by May 2006, they had persuaded Colorado lawmakers to alter the bill to subject government groups to the same $700,000 damages limit that private institutions would now face.

The battle is lost
In so doing, the bill’s backers unwittingly opened the door to its demise.
Teachers’ unions, lobbyists for local governments, and insurance companies soon joined the fight. And with mounting opposition from the capital’s most powerful interest groups, the bill that had sailed through committee months earlier suddenly was resoundingly voted down.

‘‘They boxed us into a corner,’’ Green said. ‘‘We had no moves left.’’
It remains difficult to ascertain exactly how involved Chaput was in developing this strategy.

Francis X. Maier, Chaput’s chancellor in Denver, maintained in an email that the archbishop played a minimal role.
‘‘There was nothing tactical or strategic about our approach,’’ he said. ‘‘The archbishop saw that it was a bad bill and said so.’’

Chaput’s influence can be seen in the final result. Tactics such as allying with unions and municipal leagues, direct appeals to the Catholic faithful, and refusing to simply concede to the state’s political powers all sprang from his speeches and writings at the time.
And in the years since, he and his staff have emerged as leading advisers to other archdioceses — including Wilmington — facing window bills in their states.
That has some Pennsylvania legislators worried.

State Reps. Mike McGeehan and Louise Williams Bishop filed bills in March that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations on childhood sex crimes and open a two-year window for filing expired civil claims.

On the heels of a damning grand-jury report outlining years of alleged abuse cover-ups in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the Philadelphia Democrats hoped their legislation would coast through.

So far, though, they’ve seen only halting progress. Both bills remain stuck before the House Judiciary Committee with no hearing dates and no planned schedule to bring them to a vote.

Chaput’s arrival in Philadelphia next month will likely only complicate matters, Bishop said. Still, she remains hopeful.

‘‘I believe the tide is rolling in our direction,’’ she said. ‘‘I do believe there is a movement of sympathy for child sex-abuse victims.’’

http://tinyurl.com/3pqqas7