Pope In Spain: Good Catholics Use Condoms

COMMENTARY

No, Pope Benedict didn’t really say that, but there are really interesting developments coming out of this trip for World Youth Day. Thanks to Bridget Mary’s blog for alerting us to these developments.

The poster below was to have appeared on billboards and buses across Spain, until municipal authorities, bowing under pressure from the Cardinal of Madrid, rescinded the permission.

Maybe it’s just me, but there is something amusing about the way Catholics for Choice have taken Benedict’s quite timid and tentative statement last year (If condoms are not “a real or moral solution … in this or that case, they can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”) and run with it all the way to the goal post. Maybe this is the way change always comes to the church, timidly at first, with many reversals, fits and starts. Of course, as you can see from the press release below, Catholics for Choice’s ingenious plan to place their slogan – Good Catholics Use Condoms – on billboards and buses throughout Spain during the Pope’s visit, first met with approval, then censorship, thanks to the intervention of Cardinal Antonio Ruoco of Madrid.
FROM CATHOLICS FOR CHOICE BLOG
POPE ARRIVES IN SPAIN AMID CENSORSHIP CONTROVERSY
International Youth Coalition Seconds Archbishop’s Affirmation of Freedom of Expression
The World Youth Day 4 All coalition welcomed the remarks from Archbishop Braulio Rodriguez of Toledo, Spain, who pointed out that the Catholic World Youth Day celebration is taking place in a country where freedom of expression is protected.

“Spain’s openness to freedom of expression is something Catholics for Choice took for granted when we arranged, months in advance, for the display of our Condoms4Life ads in Madrid’s transit system to coincide with World Youth Day,” said Marissa Valeri, a lead organizer of the coalition. “We were surprised, then, when the message ‘Good Catholics Use Condoms’ was deemed too offensive for Madrilenos. In reality, the best interests of the public was not the issue. Instead, it was a move made by ultraconservatives to stifle the many diverse voices of Catholics at World Youth Day, which should be a place where, as Archbishop Rodriguez affirmed, ‘we can all say what we want to say.’

The municipal authorities did a disservice to all visitors and to all Spaniards by stepping between the life-giving message that condoms save lives, on the one hand, and the individual’s right to make up his or her mind about that message, on the other.”

Condoms are apparently not the only topic that is too hot to handle in Madrid this August. Patrons at the Madrid public library have allegedly complained they were unable to access Web sites providing information on protests being organized against World Youth Day.

One of the hallmarks of the Catholic tradition is unity in diversity. Like the World Youth Day 4 All coalition, the event itself is made up of participants from all over the world, people who may speak different languages and come from different cultures, but who find kinship on the level of faith. The church hierarchy obviously feels that Spain’s respect for freedom of expression gives them room to express their viewpoint—Archbishop Rodriguez even decries those who think that certain points of view are “more right than others.” Spain’s civic freedoms should be able to include the voices of the Catholic people—including those who support the use of condoms—as well as the perspectives of non-Catholics. Otherwise, the “world” part of World Youth Day goes missing, and those from a tiny, easily ruffled minority within the Catholic hierarchy and the Spanish authorities are the only ones celebrating.

Luckily, diversity is not so easily squelched—the Condoms4Life message has been making headlines all week (see the blog, and pilgrims have encountered stickers and projections on walls around the city.

http://tinyurl.com/3myc8vg

Sexism runs deep in the Church of England

COMMENTARY

I’ve witnessed sexist attitudes in two professions – as an engineer and as a priest.

They have some similarities. In both spheres, one of the arguments is “we have never employed women to do this before” and another is “it isn’t that women are not equal – they just have different roles”.

In both professions, I’ve listened to the reasoning and it often boils down to fear of change.

However, there are some significant differences in the way sexism presents itself in the factory and the church.

In the factory, in the 1990s, sexism took several forms.

The most oppressive was the wall-to-wall pornography, which intimidated me – the women were treated by the men as objects, sub-human.

Then there was the wolf-whistling, which was frightening.

Occasionally, the men in the factory would “down tools” and whistle at me – 100 of them.

Colleagues would tell me that it was inappropriate to be a female engineer – women weren’t made for such jobs, and it interfered with the natural order of things.

Although these events were difficult, it was possible to manage well as a woman in the secular workplace, because the structures were not sexist.

So I knew that the law of the land entitled me to work as an engineer, and that the procedures of our company demanded equality.

Furthermore, almost all of the managers, and especially the managing director, were enthusiastically committed to equality.

When co-workers told me that a woman should not be an engineer I either suggested that they judge me on my work rather than on my gender, or encouraged them to talk to the managing director, knowing that he would give them short shrift.

The Church of England is different, because the sexism is institutionalised, and that makes it more oppressive.

Parishes can vote to opt out of discrimination legislation, and this compromises the whole church, as sexism is seen as tolerable.

In fact, we aren’t meant to call prejudice against women “sexism” at all: it is meant to be called “legitimate theological difference”.

For me, if it walks, swims and quacks like prejudice, then it is prejudice.

Sometimes people think that religion grants us a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to unethical practices.

It allows us to shift the blame – “I’m not sexist – God is: read your Bible” or “I’m not sexist – the Catholic church is, but we can’t change until it does”.

I see this as a perversion of the radical equality that we find in the gospel of Christ. I am grieved that the church, of all institutions, is the one that compromises justice and equality.

When people say that they don’t want a female priest, because it makes them “feel odd”, I can’t respond by saying that the institution of the church supports the equality of women.

It is also difficult to say “judge female priests on what we do, not on our gender”, because “being” rather than “doing” is a large part of priesthood. Fortunately, the vast majority of churchgoers are not sexist and my own bishop couldn’t be more supportive of equality.

In fact, I notice institutional sexism much more frequently than sexist attitudes among individuals.

Other than the obvious bar on women being bishops, there are day-to-day events.

For example, in some places, if a woman presides at the Eucharist, her name is published so that those who wish to avoid her “taint” can do so.

Another example is in appointments: when I was interviewed for a post, some of the interviewers panicked because they hadn’t foreseen the possibility that a woman might interview well.

My experience of secular life is that these things would be utterly unacceptable – illegal, in fact.

A depressing statement that I heard on this topic recently was at the press conference announcing the appointment of the two new “flying bishops” (bishops who oversee those who will not accept the priestly ministry of women).

Rowan Williams said the flying bishops would be a permanent fixture in the Church of England, even though the draft law on women bishops does away with the positions.

Williams said: “I have two new suffragans and General Synod can’t simply take them away. The pastoral need will not go away.”

Imagine if we were talking about black priests and Williams had said: “Racism is a permanent fixture of the Church of England. The pastoral need to care for priests who do not accept the ministry of black people will not go away.”

Not cool.

We need to see sexual discrimination in the same light as racial discrimination – they are both unjust and dehumanising.

I’m afraid sexism runs deep in the Church of England, but I hope it won’t be permanent.

http://tinyurl.com/44g4n28

The Church of England has double standards when it comes to gay bishops

The latest evidence of prejudice against homosexual people in the Church of England has come from the leaked Colin Slee memo and advice that Archbishop Rowan Williams sought in order to get around the Equality Act (2010). This counsel was to ensure that a gay man, ie Jeffrey John, was not appointed as bishop of Southwark. A cunning checklist was devised, consisting of five questions:

• whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on same-sex sexual activity;
• whether he was in a civil partnership;
• whether he was in a continuing civil partnership with a person with whom he had had an earlier same-sex relationship;
• whether he had expressed repentance for any previous same-sex sexual activity; and
• whether (and to what extent) the appointment of the candidate would cause division and disunity within the diocese in question, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.
By my reckoning, Jeffrey John fails on five out of five. One could be forgiven for thinking that this is a list deliberately designed to exclude him.

Recently, Chris Sugden and Colin Coward debated the issue of gay bishops on Radio 4’s Sunday programme. Sugden seemed determined to conflate homosexuality with promiscuity and adultery. However, Jeffrey John is a man in a faithful relationship with his life partner. Normally the church would commend this sort of long-term and committed relationship – but the rules change when the two people in question are the same gender.

I wonder whether the checklist above is remotely just? If these questions are put to homosexual candidates, then I would hope that heterosexual candidates were asked equivalent questions:

• whether the candidate had always complied with the Church’s teachings on sexual activity being solely within matrimony;

• whether he had expressed repentance for any previous premarital sexual activity.

Of course, these questions seem inappropriate, invasive and irrelevant. The sex life of my bishop is of zero interest to me, as long as it attests to the values of love and faithfulness that we expound in the church. Moreover, I agree with the comments from the Archbishop of York backing William and Kate’s premarital sexual activity when he said that many modern couples want to “test the milk before they buy the cow”.

Please, let us make some attempt to be even-handed and avoid such blatant hypocrisy.

http://tinyurl.com/3khc5v5

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

German Cardinal Criticizes Roman Catholic Church for Negative Tone Toward LGBT People

It seems that the United States is not the only country in which Roman Catholic clergy are speaking out against the church hierarchy’s rhetoric against LGBT people.

On the heels of polls indicating that US Roman Catholics are highly supportive of LGBT equality and a prayer service held in support of LGBT Roman Catholics at St. Cecilia’s in Boston, Mass., a German priest has critical words for the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich says that the Catholic Church has “has not always adopted the right tone” toward LGBT people.

The Cardinal further states that, while he cannot officially bless a union between two people of the same sex, he can (and implicitly will) pray for their relationship if asked.

Nothing in Cardinal Marx’s statement overtly contradicts Catholic teaching on LGBT people, but his contention that the church has historically addressed LGBT people poorly is a departure from many others in the Catholic hierarchy.

Interestingly, the Cardinal is trained in Catholic social doctrine and has been called both “left of center” and a “moderate conservative,” so perhaps his recent statements are not as surprising as they would first seem.

He has also spoken out against poverty and in support of both job creation and expanded acceptance for refugees in Germany.

Cardinal Marx is the youngest voting member of the College of Cardinals, the highly ranked Roman Catholic body that, as one of its many duties, elects the Pope.

Any step by socially conservative religious figures toward acceptance and understanding of LGBT people is important.

Though the Catholic Church as a whole has a long way to go, GLAAD is pleased to see the rhetoric changing and commends Cardinal Marx for speaking out against the defamatory language that has so often been used in Catholic teaching about the LGBT community.

http://tinyurl.com/3ufjpkt