Monday, January 21, 2008

Progressio/CIIR: Dossier

Formerly the 'Catholic Institute for International Relations', 'Progressio' takes its name from Paul VI's 1967 encyclical , Populorum Progressio. (It seems to be less keen on the same Pope's more famous 1968 encylcical, Humanae Vitae.) The shift from an explicitly Catholic name to one which can be defended as making an obscure Catholic reference is characteristic of many organisations which were founded to be Catholic, but are no longer. The website does not claim that Progressio is a Catholic organisation, but that 'Progressio combines a heritage of radical Catholicism and secular thought' It clearly wishes to milk its Catholic association to influence the Catholic Church: it works with self-described, but dissident, 'Catholic' groups; it discusses Catholic teaching, etc.. It is even listed in the national Catholic Directory of England and Wales, implying some degree of complaisance on the part of the bishops. It would like to have it both ways.

Progressio's approach, rather like Catholics for a Free Choice, is to present exactly the same agenda as a host of liberal organisations, but in some sense from 'within' the Church, thus undermining the Church's stand against many elements in that agenda. Also like the CFFC, it gets almost all of its money (£4.3m last year) not from Catholic groups or individuals, or indeed any individuals, but from the Government (64%) and a roll-call of liberal development agencies, including the abortion supporting Comic Relief. Someone should tell the few Catholics involved, like the Franciscan Priory of Woodford Green, where their money is going.

The undermining of the Church's teaching takes the form not so much of CFFC-style public denunciations, but of attempts to persuade Catholic leaders, especially bishops, and sponsoring dissent by Catholic priests and theologians. Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, an advocate of condoms, spoke at their 2002 AGM. Among their publications is a dissenting tract on AIDS by two 'Christian theologians' (see here); a tract on feminist theology by the notorious Catholic dissident Tina Beattie; and a defence of
the 'liberation theology' movement condemned by the Vatican.

In its practical work Progressio supports 'sexual and reproductive rights', a euphemism for abortion and contraception, as well as supporting other organisations which do the same. It's 'partners' do the same, some staking allegiance to liberation theology.

It promotes the implementation of CEDAW (see this Word document), the UN treaty which uses the notion of 'women's rights' to force Catholic countries to legalise abortion.

On condoms and AIDS, they have this to say:

CIIR and the teaching of Catholic Church

  • In cases of a pandemic such as HIV/AIDS the issue is about life or death. Any moral analysis has to go beyond personal sexual relations and understand the wider context of the life and death challenges and the unjust power relations between men and women.
  • The Church insists that pastoral care and support of people with HIV/AIDS must be done without judgement or prejudice. Of course, CIIR supports this.
  • CIIR notes that sexual responsibility, fidelity and chastity are values in Church teaching which are important elements in a holistic approach to tackling HIV. Respect within relationships and mutual responsibility both contribute to greater equality, assisting in reducing HIV infection.
  • The concern about church teaching on condom use has moved the focus of the debate away from these underpinning values and fails to recognise power and gender inequalities.
  • CIIR recognises that in certain circumstances the use of condoms is a life-saving option. An informed use of condoms should not be discounted.
  • We, like many others, do not consider this position to be counter to Church teaching. There is a plurality of views from church leaders and thinkers about the role of condoms and CIIR welcomes the debate. Examples include:
  1. Church teaching includes an acceptance of a secondary effect (for instance in the use of the contraceptive pill to regulate menstrual cycles although also having a contraceptive effect is acceptable).
  2. Church teaching includes the concept of the lesser of two evils (in this instance death/condom use).
The two arguments at the end can be answered briefly:

1. Contraceptive devices used for non-contraceptive uses may be permissible, but:
a) The condom-pushers in developing countries simply hand them out as useful for both ends.

b) The promotion of condom-use promotes the social acceptability of contraception.

c) The promotion of condom-use promotes the very sexual immorality which spreads AIDS.

d) Most importantly, it would be insane as well as immoral for a possibly infected person to use a condom simply to prevent infection, because they are not 100% effective (estimates vary between
75-95% for their prevention transfer of the virus between partners: used regularly, this is effectively an effectiveness of zero).
As Monsignor Michel Schooyans of the Pontifical Academy for Life and also Social Sciences said in an interview in June 2006. " can ask oneself if it is truly an act of love for an HIV-positive to have relations with a healthy person. Like a sufferer from tuberculosis, from pulmonary plague orcholera, an HIV-positive knows that he can infect his partner. So if one really loves someone, one is going to avoid his running the risk of death. And it is well known that condoms are not reliable, that the percentage of ruptures is sometimes fairly high.
In morality the principle of the lesser evil is very simple. It consists of saying that when one is confronted by two inevitable evils, one must choose the lesser of these two evils. It is almost a question of good sense. As an example, let us revert to the case of condoms. To have relations with an HIV-positive and trying to protect oneself with condoms, is not something inevitable. There is always the freedom to have or not have this type of relations." (Interview by Arianne Rollier Rome June 2006)

2. Contraception is intrinsically evil, which means that it is not possible to use a 'lesser of two evils' argument. A Catholic may choose to amputate a leg to save a life; he may not choose to murder (or suggest that others murder) the innocent to save any number of lives: amputation is not intrinsically evil, murder is.

Paul VI addressed this very argument when he stated the Church's teaching in Humanae Vitae 14:

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. (14) Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (15)

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. (16)

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

The wider question is whether promoting condoms, rather than abstinence, in countries with an AIDS problem actually helps. In The Spectator (p.28.14th May 2007). Dr. James McEvoy of Yale University Chemistry Dept, refers to the recent review of the subject conducted for the (not notably conservative) UNaids programme. This report concludes that: "the public health benefit of condom promotion remains unestablished. In countries like Uganda that have curbed generalized epidemics, reducing the numbers of individuals' sex partners appears to have been more important than promoting the use of condoms." McEvoy concludes that 'the Catholic Church's recommendations in Africa, however irritating they might be for many Europeans, are therefore medically correct.'

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen