Nel's New Day

May 11, 2012

Catholics Attack Nuns, Girl Scouts

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:04 PM
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The Catholic Church declared war on women’s birth control earlier this year, creating a great media stir. But their latest crackdowns are even more unbelievable. First they attacked the nuns when, in mid-April, the 86-year-old pope came down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main umbrella group of women’s orders in the United States that represents 57,000 nuns in this country. A three-year doctrinal assessment determined a situation of “crisis ….characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center.”

The complaint from the Vatican was “a prevalence of … radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith …. theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father … including commentaries on ‘patriarchy’ which distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.” Sounds pretty serious. So what have the nuns been doing to deserve this condemnation?

According to the pope, the nuns are ignoring issues of “crucial importance” to the church such as abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia while devoting themselves to issues of poverty and economic injustice. Vatican officials are also riled because nuns made public statements that “disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” So the nuns want to help the poor and get them health care.

Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain has been appointed to oversee reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which includes rewriting the group’s statutes, reviewing all its plans and programs (including approving speakers), and ensuring the organization properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual. The reform, which could take up to five years, would include a review of ties between the Leadership Conference and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, which supported the health care act despite bishops’ objections that it would provide funding for abortion.

Many nuns and their supporters said the investigation reflected church officials’ misogyny and was an insult to religious sisters, who run hospitals, teach, and play other vital service roles in the church. The investigation into the sisters’ actions comes at the same time that the Vatican continues to fend off lawsuits against the male leaders of the Catholic Church—priests, bishops, etc.—for their involvement in huge numbers of child abuse by priests during the last half century.

According to Nicholas Kristoff, “Nuns were the first feminists, earning Ph.D.’s or working as surgeons long before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs. As managers of hospitals, schools and complex bureaucracies, they were the first female C.E.O.’s. They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world.” He writes about seeing them “defy warlords, pimps and bandits” and describes the actions of Sister Rachele Fassers, who defied the African warlord Joseph Kony after he kidnapped 139 students from a Ugandan girls’ school. She hiked through the jungle after Kony and his menacing army of 200 rapists and torturists, demanding that they release the girls. They let the great majority of the girls return with her. While bishops disgrace the Catholic Church by shielding priests who rape children, nuns continue to work for the neediest.

In the Bible Jesus was concerned about poverty and social justice with no mention of abortion and homosexuality. Mary E. Hunt, a Catholic theologian, writes, “How dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world? How dare the very men who preside over a church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?” Just one example is Sister Joan Chittister’s order of 120 nuns that runs a soup kitchen, a huge food pantry, an afterschool program, and one of the largest education programs for the unemployed in the state of Pennsylvania. This is who the pope is attacking.

“To me, it’s quite puzzling that our work with the poor, which Jesus told us to do in the gospels, would be the source of such a criticism,” said Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK. Campbell said she believes the Vatican targeted her group because of their support for healthcare reform. “They like it when we just do service, but don’t have thoughts, don’t have questions, don’t have criticism. That is a real challenge in a political society, when we have to do a deep, nuanced analysis in order to know the way forward for this, for the common good.” She added, ”I actually find it quite a badge of honor to be thought to be working so much for those who live at the margins of our society. That’s what we’re about. That’s who we are.”

“The church hierarchy never recoiled in horror from pedophilia, yet it recoils in horror from outspoken nuns,” Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in a recent column. Kristof added, “Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, the nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest.”

In the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church excommunicated an Australian nun named Mary MacKillop after her order exposed a pedophile priest. Eventually she was permitted to return to her order where she became famous for her work with the poor. The pope canonized Sister Mary in 2010 as Australia’s first saint. He declared, “Let us be guided” by Sister Mary’s teachings. Perhaps someone will remind him of what he did and said two years ago.

As if the attack on the nuns isn’t enough, the Catholic Church has gone after the Girl Scouts on their 100th anniversary. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops accuses the Scouts of having a partnership with Planned Parenthood (not true) and distributing materials on human sexuality (also not true). The bishops were very vague in the letter from the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, stating they will look into the Scouts’ “possible problematic relationships with other organizations” and various “problematic” program materials. The Catholic bishops spend their time investigating the Girl Scouts while not protesting the Boy Scouts child abuse debacle.

Out-dated Catholic beliefs which may return because of the current pope’s narrowness are punishing even high school students. A conservative school operated by the Society of Saint Pius X, a group representing traditional priests who broke from the Catholic Church in the 1980s, forfeited a championship baseball game rather than play the team from Mesa Preparatory Academy because that school has a girl on its team, Paige Sultzback. She sat out two other games against Our Lady of Sorrows in Phoenix (AZ) in respect to the Lady’s philosophy, but the coach wanted her to play in the final game. A statement from Our Lady of Sorrows explained that the school teaches respect by not placing girls in athletic competition where “proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty.”

The Vatican should be lucky that people still have an allegiance to the church after the way that they seem to endorse child abuse with no punishment and repress their members. They should just let the nuns do their good work, let the Girl Scouts have their campouts, and let school kids play baseball. As Dowd said, “How do you take spiritual direction from a church that seems to be losing its soul?”

April 6, 2012

One Heart at a Time: LGBT Rights Progress

The Gay Politics Report comes into my email box a couple of times each week. Usually it has one or two articles that seem to move LGBT rights ahead with the majority providing discouraging news for equality. Somehow this edition was encouraging enough to make me search for even more good news for the LGBT community.

Lesbian chef Mirella Salemi has been awarded $1.6 million from restaurateur Edward Globokar after he held employee prayer meetings at his TriBeCa Mexican eatery, Mary Ann’s, to cure her of her “sexuality.” She worked there for six years before she quit in 2007. Globokar discriminated against employees in his six Manhattan restaurants, telling them they faced eternal damnation unless they went to church.

Joe Abell, an assistant school principal in Fullerton (CA), apologized to student Kearian Giertz after interrupting his speech for the annual Mr. Fullerton competition, walking him off the stage, and telling him he was disqualified. Giertz explained how he received Abell’s ire: “I said, ‘Hopefully, in 10 years time, I’ll be winning Emmys, Oscars and Tonys’–just, you know, the typical answer–and, then, I added, ‘But, more importantly, I’d really, really like to sit on the couch with the person that I love and say I’m married to them. In my case, that would be a male. And, I hope that, in 10 years time, that would be legal.’” Good for you, Kearian. Other students objected to this treatment.

After suing a southwest Ohio school district for not allowing him to wear a t-shirt with the statement “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe,” 16-year-old Maverick Couch will be permitted to wear the shirt for just one day—the Day of Silence that the school commemorates on April 20. That isn’t stopping Couch from continuing his lawsuit against Waynesville High School and the Wayne Local School District for violating his freedom of expression rights. School officials said the shirt was “sexual in nature,” indecent, and inappropriate at school. Couch said he wanted to wear the shirt to “promote respect for all students, gay or straight.” Couch’s attorney, Christopher Clark, said, “A student’s First Amendment rights are not restricted to one day of the year.”

U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis has ruled that a marriage between a man and a transgender woman is legal under Minnesota law and that a health insurance plan could not drop the woman from her husband’s health benefits. The judge said that because one person is male and the other legally transitioned to female, the couple qualifies as legally married under the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Davis is bucking the past trend of ruling the opposite way. A Texas judge voided a marriage last summer because a firefighter’s widow was born male. Kansas and Florida have had similar rulings based on the states’ Defense of Marriage Acts or state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

The rating for the film Bully has been changed from “R” to PG-13 because three expletives were edited out of the documentary. Bully was released on March 30 with no rating; a re-release with the new rating is scheduled for April 13. The film about school bullying follows five young people for a year. The monthlong rating dispute between The Weinstein Co. that released the film and the MPAA that gives ratings was made more public across the nation after 17-year-old Katy Butler of Ann Arbor (MI) started an online petition calling for a rating that would allow more young people to see it. The “R” rating for Bully for three expletives has been compared to the PG-13 rating for The Hunger Games in which ten teenagers are violently killed.

Four former DNC Chairs–Howard Dean, Donald Fowler, Steve Grossman and David Wilhelm—have joined Freedom to Marry’s Democrats: Say I Do campaign to secure a freedom-to-marry plank in the 2012 Democratic Party platform. The former chairs issued the following statement: ”We are proud that the Democratic Party fights for working families, economic justice, and equal opportunity for all.  Times change but our principles must always remain strong.  That is why, as former chairs of the Democratic National Committee, we stand with Freedom to Marry, 22 Democratic senators, Leader Nancy Pelosi, and more than 35,000 Americans in urging the Party to include a freedom to marry plank in the platform that is ratified at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this September.”

Robert “Bob” Kabel and Jill Homan have been elected to the posts of Republican national committeeman and committeewoman for the District of Columbia, making it the only jurisdiction with openly gay GOP committee members. Robert “Bob” Kabel and Jill Homan will officially take their positions in September at the conclusion of the 2012 Republican Convention.

The U.S. House of Representatives continues to use LGBT money to defend the Defense of Marriage Act preventing equality of marriage, this time before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Paul Clement defended the discriminatory law, claiming that Congress had a rational basis for passing the law because, in 1996, Hawaii might become the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. He also said that Congress wanted to preserve a traditional and uniform definition of marriage and argued that Congress has the power to define the terms used in federal statutes to distribute federal benefits, the first time they would do since the adoption of the Constitution over 200 years ago.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery told the court that the Department of Justice would not be defending the constitutionality of the 1996 law regardless of the level of scrutiny the court found appropriate in the case. He supported that statement with President Obama’s February 2011 decision that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional because such laws should be subjected to heightened scrutiny and that, accordingly, DOJ would stop defending DOMA in court. He also argued that a law that denies same-sex couples a large number of federal benefits given to heterosexual couples amounts to “across-the-board disrespect.” Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey said “DOMA …. is really a rule of exclusion.” Mary Bonauto, an attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), said Congress passed the law out of “moral disapproval.”

Clement also tried to make the case that DOMA isn’t an anti-gay law. Although DOJ, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and GLAD argued that DOMA was motivated by “animus”—anti-gay sentiment—Clement used the argument that the impact of DOMA was not all bad. “In some cases,” he said, “it’s a net financial benefit to the same-sex couple; in some, it’s not.” Delery quoted from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down sodomy laws, when Kennedy held that “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”

The House of Representatives is appealing a judgment in Massachusetts that declared the heart of the law unconstitutional in 2010. Judge Joseph Tauro found that the law interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns. Mary and Dorene Bowe-Shulman, of Acton, plaintiffs in the GLAD lawsuit, said they resent having to check the “single” box on their tax returns because they’ve been legally married in Massachusetts since 2004. “It’s humiliating to have to declare to the federal government once a year that we’re not married when we are married,” Mary Bowe-Shulman said.

Another heated court case may come from the supposed failure of Anchorage’s Proposition 5 that would have included gay and transgender citizens in the anti-discrimination Municipal Code that already protects others based on race, gender, age, marital status and other traits.  Voting was so high that polling places ran out of ballots, thousands of questioned ballots were cast, and some voters may have been illegally turned away from the polls.

Adding to the confusion—and illegality—was the statement from the opposition’s Facebook page from its administrator Jim Minnery: “Attention Young People or First Time Voters – YOU CAN REGISTER AND VOTE AT THE SAME LOCATION TODAY !! It is super easy. Take a few minutes TODAY and stop by a polling station, register to vote (all you need is your AK driver’s license) and cast a NO Vote on Prop. 5. We really need you to vote. Tell at least 3 of your friends how easy it is.” Even when reminded that Alaska requires voters to register 30 days before an election, Minnery didn’t take down his statement.

Meanwhile the Catholic Church in Washington state has declared war on marriage equality. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo are deploying parishes to collect signatures for Referendum 74, a measure that would overturn marriage equality in the state. Their letter denies Gov. Christine Gregoire’s statement that refusing marriage to same-sex couples equates to discrimination.

“Treating different things differently is not unjust discrimination,” the bishops claim. The Catholic leaders deny that same-sex couples can achieve “the reality of the unique, fruitful, lifelong union.” Showing their sensitivity, the authors of the letter asked that signatures not be gathered on Easter. Both Gregoire and State Sen. Ed Murray, sponsor of the marriage equality bill, are Catholic.

With all the progress, it’s one heart at a time. One conservative mother had her heart changed when she found out that her son is gay. Every anti-LGBT person should read her narrative.

February 12, 2012

Obama Changes Birth Control Rule

Besieged by mostly male Catholics for his recent mandate that their schools, hospitals, and charities must provide insurance that gives free birth control to their employees, President Obama move the requirement last Friday to insurance companies, mandating that they provide free contraception to any women contacting their providers. Companies should be delighted to provide the medication because the alternative—pregnancy—costs them far more money. Catholic leaders are still screaming about it because they don’t want women to have any contraception.

President Obama’s new policy contains the following:

  • Contraception will be available to women at no additional cost beginning August 1, 2012.
  • Insurance companies will reach out directly to employees of religious organizations who object to coverage contraception. The contraception will then be provided to the employee at no additional cost.
  • Religious organizations who object are not involved in providing or paying for contraception in any way. Since contraception helps save on overall health care spending, it is a benefit that comes at no net cost, meaning that religious organizations are not subsidizing it any way by merely providing health care coverage for their employees.
  • Churches and organizations that primarily employ and serve members of their own faith would still be excluded from coverage under the plan.

Enraged by the possibility of women getting birth control—or maybe just pushing for conservative votes—Sen. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has proposed an amendment to the Affordable Care Act allowing any employer or insurance company to “exclude any health service, no matter how essential, from coverage if they morally object to it.” If this were passed, an insurer or an employer could claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests, or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. A health plan could also refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer. Lung cancer might not be covered even if the cause were second-hand smoke. Insurance companies could make a fortune because they wouldn’t have to pay for anything!

Rick Santorum, who stated that the requirement of free birth control for women will lead to people’s beheading in this country, has said that no insurance plan should pay for birth control because it’s so cheap.  In reality, a woman who wants oral contraceptives must pay from $35 to $250 for the provider visit; the medication costs between $15 and $50 a month, depending on medical coverage. Without insurance coverage for contraception, women may pay over $850 the first year of their prescription. Contraceptive patches cost from $15 to $80 dollars per month, possibly costing a woman over $1,200 dollars in the first year. That may be peanuts to Santorum, but for women at the poverty line, it’s unaffordable. For Santorum this may be a small part of his personal budget.

Bishops and conservatives pointing their fingers at President Obama and his so-called “war on religion” ignore the fact that the mandate to require most employers to cover contraception for women went into law over a decade ago and peacefully stayed there during all eight years of George W. Bush’s two terms. In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that companies violated the sex anti-discrimination Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act if they provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control. For the past 12 years that ruling has applied to all employers with 15 or more employees.

To gain birth control access for women, reproductive rights groups and employees sued employers who were not in compliance. In 2001’s Erickson v. Bartell Drug Co., a federal court ruled with EEOC. Other court decisions echoed Erickson while others disagreed, but, with no U.S. Supreme Court ruling, 90 percent of employer-based plans offered birth control. Judy Waxman, the vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center said, “It has been in active use all this time. [President Obama’s] policy is only new in the sense that it covers employers with less than 15 employees and with no copay for the individual. The basic rule has been in place since 2000.”

Not even religious employers were exempt from the impact of the EEOC decision. Title VII allows religious institutions to discriminate on religious grounds, but it doesn’t allow them to discriminate on the basis of sex. DePaul University, the largest Roman Catholic university inAmerica, added birth control coverage to its plans after receiving an EEOC complaint several years ago.

New York began requiring prescription contraception coverage in 2002 after Catholics groups sued and lost in the state’s highest court. The Supreme Court refused to take on the case. To avoid covering contraception, Catholic institutions in New York would have to drop all prescription drug coverage—including Viagra.

Letters to the editor in my part of the country have said it better than I can. Barbara Scarff Minckler writes, “I find it ironic that the old men who run the Catholic Church, neither husbands nor fathers, who didn’t have the decency to control the pedophiles in their own ranks, think they should have something to say about the most private of women’s concerns, i.e., their reproductive health.” (Meanwhile the Catholic Church is also trying to prevent groups such as Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests from stopping pedophilia.)

Lisa Cannon adds, “Are we really still talking about making birth control available to everyone? Which decade is this? If the people who run Catholic hospitals and universities feel so strongly about denying access to birth control to their employees, then they should refuse to accept federal funds.” She goes on to explain that most Catholics are not opposed to birth control and finishes, “So unless we decide we also want to allow every religion to ignore the laws of our country because they don’t agree with them, this is a non-issue. If prominent Republicans defend this, then I expect to see them defend the rights of Native American to take peyote at religious ceremonies as well.”

Cannon’s last comments refers to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement in writing for the majority decision in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith: “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that  the State is free to regulate.” People whose religious beliefs oppose war are also still forced to pay for war.

Janie Malloy finishes her letter by stating, “Respecting employers’ religious beliefs does not require allowing them to make health care and reproduction decisions for us.” Amen.

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