Washington DC - Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement today about the publication of Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”). In the statement, Mr. O’Brien applauds the pope’s dedication to improving development aid but also raises concerns about what is missing.
“As President Barack Obama and other world leaders in the Group of Eight prepare to gather in Italy, Pope Benedict XVI has published his much-anticipated encyclical on the economy, “Caritas in Veritate.” Both events will inevitably provide a rich agenda for the meeting between Pope Benedict and President Obama, which is scheduled for Friday afternoon.
“There is much to applaud in “Caritas in Veritate.” However, there are some serious omissions as well. The pope fails to show a true compassion for women, who often are the last to benefit from development aid. He rightly decries infant mortality, but never mentions maternal mortality. He fails to fully address the impact of HIV and AIDS on developing economies, and neglects to support a holistic approach to HIV-prevention that includes the provision of condoms.
“Our concerns about the encyclical center on the manner in which the pope characterizes sexual and reproductive health and rights. The pope does discuss what he refers to as “responsible procreation, which among other things has a positive contribution to make to integral human development” and calls for man [sic] “to have full respect for human values in the exercise of his sexuality.” However, because of the hierarchy’s opposition to modern methods of family planning, the means to exercise responsible procreation and sexuality are not mentioned except in a condemnatory way.
“Given this distorted perspective, some of Pope Benedict’s words on development aid miss the mark. His words reveal, yet again, the church hierarchy’s incessant attempts to derail sound development aid policies that include sexual and reproductive health and rights. Instead of wrestling with the moral issues at hand, the pope uses the all-too-familiar straw men that the hierarchy regularly falls back on, warning of imposed abortion, forced sterilization and mandatory birth control. These practices are deplorable, but thankfully rare. They must and should be opposed at every turn, but they do not represent the norm nor do they represent what international development agencies promote.
“The pope is right to uphold the fact that the church’s social teachings inform its positions on “development, social well-being, [and] the search for a satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity.” And certainly, the church does much good on many of these issues. “Caritas in Veritate” draws attention to the gross inequalities that exist in today’s world. “Justice and the common good” are rightfully highlighted as being vital for any development aid program. Pope Benedict calls for access to food and water to be regarded “as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.” He calls for society not to denigrate the poor, but to consider them a resource in development programs. He acknowledges the important place that labor unions have and requests the full funding of social security safety nets. He calls for respect for migrants, improved scientific research and public participation in politics, religious freedom, the safeguarding of our environmental resources, and reform of the market system.
“We do agree that, as the encyclical notes, “Development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good.” At the same time, we feel that the conscience of the church hierarchy is swayed not by a call to serve the common good, but rather the fear of losing authority on moral issues. We are certain that if the hierarchy truly felt the call to serve the common good, then its idea of the common good and “true integral human development” would include life-saving measures such as condom use to prevent the transmission of HIV, family planning to determine family size and spacing, and access to legal abortion. These are obvious, evidence-based measures that both promote the common good and alleviate the burdens of those living in poverty.
“A final note of criticism. According to Pope Benedict, the church claims not “to interfere in any way in the politics of States.” If that’s the case, perhaps he can explain why the US bishops lobbied the US Congress so hard to strip life-saving family planning measures from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) bill that would have reduced mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Or why bishops around the world denounce the legal availability of abortion, modern methods of family planning and in-vitro fertilization?
“When President Obama and Pope Benedict meet this Friday, we hope that these critical issues regarding development aid and sexual and reproductive health and rights are addressed. As the president has rescinded the Global Gag Rule, we are encouraged that he is dedicated to ensuring that sexual and reproductive health and rights are an integral part of development aid. Most leaders of the G8 countries are of the same mind. It is time for Pope Benedict to hear from fellow world leaders that the church hierarchy’s stance on sexual and reproductive health and development aid is causing those living in poverty more pain. Certainly, President Obama could be the one to deliver that message.”