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John Paul II: Good or Bad?


John Simkin
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I thought it might be worth discussing the legacy of Pope John Paul II.

Good

Played a role in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe (although some political commentators have clearly overstated this role).

A consistent spokesman for “social justice”.

Highly critical of the consequences of uncontrolled capitalism.

Spoke out against anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church.

Criticised the invasion of Iraq and other wars of aggression.

Condemned those countries that still have capital punishment.

Bad

Continued to advocate the banning of condoms. Therefore resulting in the unnecessary deaths of millions of Catholics in Africa and other parts of the world.

Attempting to cover-up the problem of paedophiles in the Catholic Church. Currently there are 4,450 Catholic clergy in the US alone accused of molesting children. For example, one American cardinal found guilty of covering up this scandal was rewarded with promotion to a key position in Rome.

Advocating reactionary views on gays, divorce, sex before marriage, birth control and abortion.

Overseeing a dramatic decline in church attendance in Europe (including Poland).

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Overseeing a dramatic decline in church attendance in Europe (including Poland).

While the record of the late pope may be open to criticism in certain respects, I wouldn't have thought he could be held responsible for rising secularism throughout Europe. Was he also responsible for the even steeper decline in Church of England attendance over the same period?

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But is there any evidence that this is the case? In England, at least, I think you'll find that attendances are down in almost all churches. The CofE which has, over the past 20 years, followed every "modern" theological trend to the extent that some bishops have even doubted the truth of the resurrection has seen an even more severe decline in numbers. I don't think the way to stem the tide of secularism is to make churches ever-more secular...

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The only evidence I've come across is anecdotal. There was an interesting argument in the Guardian last week, for example, from an Irish Catholic, who claimed that the Catholic Church's attitude to contraception was a major factor in the steep decline in Catholics taking confession.

It looks to me, though, as if alll the major churches are in decline in the industrialised countries, as you say. I'd say that the reason for that is rationalism … and that the only situations where religion has any chance of regaining its former glory are ones where rationalism hasn't reached yet.

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But is there any evidence that this is the case? In England, at least, I think you'll find that attendances are down in almost all churches. The CofE which has, over the past 20 years, followed every "modern" theological trend to the extent that some bishops have even doubted the truth of the resurrection has seen an even more severe decline in numbers. I don't think the way to stem the tide of secularism is to make churches ever-more secular...

You are right to suggest that the Church of England is also in decline. However, that is another issue. My point was that the Pope was unable to do anything about the decline in the Catholic Church. In fact, I think he made the problem worse by the stance he took on issues like birth-control, divorce and abortion.

For example, my wife was brought up as a Roman Catholic. Her mother had six children and this caused her serious health problems and resulted in her early death. Although she refused to use artificial birth-control methods she urged her six children to do so. This they did: one had no children, two had one and three had two. As Roman Catholics they had to make weekly confessions. They felt this was hypocritical and five left the Church. One daughter carried on attending mass. However, she was deserted by her alcoholic and womanizing husband, and when she finally divorced him, she was refused permission to take Holy Communion. She therefore left the Church. None of the children are members of the Roman Catholic Church. Nor are the brothers and sisters of my wife’s parents. Nor are their children or grandchildren.

This story has been repeated all over Europe. This was inevitable. The recent World Values Survey shows a complete rejection in Europe of the Pope’s teachings. For example, 95% of people in Sweden believe that abortion can be justified: UK (74), Germany (73), Italy (68%), etc. Even in America, where abortion is still a political issue, 70% believe it is justified.

54% of all Catholics worldwide thought abortion was acceptable. 74% of Catholics thought divorce could be justified in certain circumstances. It is only in the third world that the Roman Catholic Church can enforce its views on birth-control, divorce and abortion. For example, only 8% of people in Zimbabwe believe abortion can be justified. I am afraid that if the Roman Catholic Church does have a future it is in countries where the media is under the control of the State or the Church.

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Bandy about the numbers as much as you like, John. To believers, God's will doesn't depend on how many vote for it... In some cases I think even you would agree. For example, I'm sure a huge majority of the people in Texas support the death penalty. That doesn't make it right. If 98% of all Catholics thought abortion on demand acceptable, I still wouldn't, and, I hope, neither would the Church...

I'm somewhat surprised by the tone of your final sentence. Are you, perhaps, suggesting that the poor benighted people of the Third World where the Church still seems "unfortunately" to be growing are too unsophisticated to be aware that they're being cleverly manipulated by State and Church controlled media?

By the way, and speaking of "anecdotal" evidence, when I went to mass on Sunday, there was standing room only from about 10 minutes before the service started, and by the time it ended, there must have been a crowd of around 100 listening on loudspeakers outside the church. There are five masses every Sunday and they're all similarly crowded.

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I wonder why no-one on this forum thinks that this question is very interesting! The debate about whether or not Catholics in Europe go to church, take mass and confess their sins seems a little beside the point (since there are plenty of statistics to go on).

My own impression of the discussion in newspapers since John Paul II's death is that it's only really Catholics themselves who found John Paul to be an important figure. For the rest of us, we're used to conservative figures trying to turn the clock back on the advances we've made … and we're not buying their message.

I wonder who the cardinals will choose for their next leader. One thing seems pretty certain to me: if they choose a figure who will appeal to the bulk of Catholics in the third world, then the Catholic Church's decline in the developed world will just continue. If, on the other hand, they don't, then the Catholic Church is headed for the same schisms as are currently affecting the Anglican Church.

However, I'm an atheist, not a religious believer, so there's quite probably something I've missed!

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Bandy about the numbers as much as you like, John.  To believers, God's will doesn't depend on how many vote for it... In some cases I think even you would agree. For example, I'm sure a huge majority of the people in Texas support the death penalty. That doesn't make it right. If 98% of all Catholics thought abortion on demand acceptable, I still wouldn't, and, I hope, neither would the Church...

I'm somewhat surprised by the tone of your final sentence. Are you, perhaps, suggesting that the poor benighted people of the Third World where the Church still seems "unfortunately" to be growing are too unsophisticated to be aware that they're being cleverly manipulated by State and Church controlled media?

I do actually have more respect for those religious groups like the Quakers and the Roman Catholics who have refused to change their views in line with public opinion than those like the Church of England. However, it does cause problems when you are so much out of step with public opinion. As the figures show, people living in the developed world are overwhelmingly in favour of artificial birth control and divorce. This is clearly causing the Roman Catholic Church serious problems.

Like you, I am also opposed to abortion. However, I believe this is not an issue that men should spend too much time talking about (it is no coincidence that the Roman Catholic Church is controlled by men). The morality of having an abortion is a matter that women have to deal with. The law in the UK gives them the freedom to make their own decisions about this matter. That is how it should be.

The World Attitudes Survey shows that the developed world seems to be more in favour of people’s freedom to be homosexual, have abortions, use birth-control and to obtain a divorce. There are several reasons for this. Personally, I believe the most important reason is that people in the developed world are much better informed than those in the underdeveloped world. For example, the Roman Catholic Church has been running a propaganda campaign to convince people in Africa that you can still catch Aids if you wear a condom. People in the West do not believe this. Unfortunately, people in Africa have believed this message. As a result, thousands of them are now dead.

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Can you put up a few links for that story John?

The argument I've heard over and over (within the Catholic community) about HIV and the Catholic Church has always been a simple one. Don't have sex outside marriage and you'll minimise the chances of catching HIV / AIDS. Simple and relatively effective. I'd be amazed to hear any church argue anything other than that message!

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Can you put up a few links for that story John?

The argument I've heard over and over (within the Catholic community) about HIV and the Catholic Church has always been a simple one. Don't have sex outside marriage and you'll minimise the chances of catching HIV / AIDS. Simple and relatively effective. I'd be amazed to hear any church argue anything other than that message!

Here are several links providing background information to this story. Here is a passage from an article by Steve Bradshaw in the Guardian on Thursday October 9, 2003.

The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk.

The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to HIV.

A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are untrue.

The church's claims are revealed in a BBC1 Panorama programme, Sex and the Holy City, to be broadcast on Sunday. The president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, told the programme: "The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom.

"These margins of uncertainty... should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger."

The WHO has condemned the Vatican's views, saying: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million."

The organisation says "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90%. There may be breakage or slippage of condoms - but not, the WHO says, holes through which the virus can pass .

Scientific research by a group including the US National Institutes of Health and the WHO found "intact condoms... are essentially impermeable to particles the size of STD pathogens including the smallest sexually transmitted virus... condoms provide a highly effective barrier to transmission of particles of similar size to those of the smallest STD viruses".

The Vatican's Cardinal Trujillo said: "They are wrong about that... this is an easily recognisable fact."

The church opposes any kind of contraception because it claims it breaks the link between sex and procreation - a position Pope John Paul II has fought to defend.

In Kenya - where an estimated 20% of people have HIV - the church condemns condoms for promoting promiscuity and repeats the claim about permeability. The archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Nzeki, said: "Aids... has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms."

Sex and the Holy City includes a Catholic nun advising her HIV-infected choirmaster against using condoms with his wife because "the virus can pass through".

In Lwak, near Lake Victoria, the director of an Aids testing centre says he cannot distribute condoms because of church opposition. Gordon Wambi told the programme: "Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids."

Panorama found the claims about permeable condoms repeated by Catholics as far apart as Asia and Latin America.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/aids/story/0,7369,1059068,00.html

This is how the BBC reported the story on 29th September, 2003

This week marks 25 years since Pope John Paul was elected to Saint Peter's throne.

Yet as his reign is widely celebrated, millions of women around the world may feel they have reason to regret his long rule - and the global battles he has waged against contraception, abortion and condoms.

In the West, many Catholics ignore the Church's teachings on sex. But in poorer countries - from where the next Pope may emerge - the words of the priest on sex still matter, whether spoken from the pulpit or to a government minister.

The Pope believes everyone - not just the world's billion Catholics - should follow the Vatican's teaching.

And he's tried to make sure the world listens - becoming a key player in the bitter global debate over women's rights and reproductive health.

Panorama has travelled across four continents to talk to those directly affected by the Pope's conservative teachings on sex.

The team has discovered that the Catholic Church - contrary to mainstream scientific opinion - is claiming that condoms have microscopic holes in them which allow the HIV virus through.

The World Health Organisation has condemned this view as dangerous.

Panorama also meets the pro-life mayor who has taken control of Manila City's health clinics, banning the Pill and condoms, and schoolgirls raped by their own father, yet obliged to carry his babies to term.

All on behalf of a Pope who once helped his predecessor Pope Paul VI to reject the Pill against the views of the Vatican's own advisors.

In this unique documentary, Steve Bradshaw investigates how the Pope who tried to act in the best interests of women came to be accused by his opponents of ruining so many lives.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/panorama/3147672.stm

George Bush has been implicated in this campaign. See for example this article in LA News: (6th December, 2002)

THE UNITED NATIONS’ LATEST REPORT ON AIDS, issued last week, underscores how the Bush administration’s war on the condom has blocked HIV-prevention efforts around the world. A key finding: Nearly half of all new cases of HIV infection are women. But in May, at the U.N.’s Special Session on Children, Bush formed an unholy alliance with Iraq and Iran — you remember, two-thirds of the “axis of evil” — to successfully eliminate from the official declaration any references to the right of the world’s children to “reproductive health services and education,” including condoms for HIV prevention.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where teenage girls are treated as chattel and forced into sexual submission to older men — either by economic necessity or cultural tradition — the U.N. report notes that about 2 million of about 4.2 million new HIV infections are among females. Yet Bush threatened countries with trade and aid reprisals if they didn’t toe the no-condoms, abstinence-only, anti-abortion line in the vote to weaken the U.N.’s commitment to providing life-saving information to those young women.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Countries like Cambodia have complained in public that U.S. policies preventing American foreign-aid dollars from being used to purchase, distribute and educate about condoms have crippled their HIV-prevention programs.

And, here at home, Bush — under the direction of political commissar Karl Rove — has been systematically placing HIV- prevention efforts into the hands of the Christian right — which ä is pushing the censorious line that abstinence before heterosexual marriage is the only permissible form of HIV-prevention education — and putting condom opponents in charge of AIDS education.

For example, Rove engineered the appointment of Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn as co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS (PACHA). A former congressman and Baptist deacon, condom critic Coburn — a board member of the far-right Family Research Council — was considered the AIDS community’s Enemy Number One in his years in the House. He earned this dishonor because this notorious homophobe, after having called safer sex a “lie,” tried to have the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) fired for advocating condom use to prevent AIDS; wrote unsuccessful legislation to replace anonymous HIV testing with mandatory reporting of the names of the HIV-infected (which AIDS educators say drives people away from being tested for the virus and forces the problem underground); and spurred intimidating investigations of nonprofit AIDS agencies.

For the position of PACHA’s executive director, Rove picked Patricia Funderburk Ware, a former actress who has made a career out of promoting abstinence until marriage as the only acceptable guideline for sexual conduct. As the education head of Americans for a Sound AIDS Policy, a group funded by the Christian right, Ware not only lobbied against any efforts that promoted education and protection over abstinence but also against including HIV and AIDS in the Americans With Disabilities Act and its protections against discrimination. Moreover, Bush’s appointees to the advisory council included no scientists and not a single person with HIV, while at the same time he stacked it with campaign contributors and Christian-right condom opponents — including Joe McIlhaney Jr., director of the Texas-based Medical Institute for Sexual Health, which provides condom-debunking information to abstinence educators across the country. McIlhaney, who was Bush’s AIDS-prevention guru when Dubya was governor.

At the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Rove recruited conservative Claude Allen, a former top aide to Jesse Helms, to keep an eye on Secretary Tommy Thompson (who has an exaggerated reputation as a “moderate”). As Secretary of Health and Human Resources for right-wing Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, Allen bent public-health priorities to the religious right’s agenda and led a state-sponsored anti-safe-sex crusade he cooked up with the abstinence-only Institute for Youth Development, whose mission is to teach children to fear rather than understand sex. Allen says of condom use: “It’s like telling your child, ‘Don’t use the car,’ but then leaving the keys in the Lamborghini and saying, ‘But if you do, buckle up.’” As deputy health secretary, Allen has been placed in charge of a censorious audit of AIDS groups designed to crack down on science-based safe-sex education.

Not only has Allen made explicit sex ed aimed at gay men his favorite target (despite soaring infection rates among under-25 gay males), but when Thompson was criticized by vociferous protests against Bush’s AIDS betrayals during the secretary’s speech at the international AIDS conference in Barcelona earlier this year, influential Indiana Representative Mark Souder — an evangelical Christian who says all gay sex is “immoral,” and who chairs the House’s oversight subcommittee on HHS — sparked a witch-hunt against a dozen respected AIDS service organizations (including San Francisco’s Stop AIDS Project) because some of their members participated in the demonstration. Now being conducted by Allen, the HHS witch-hunting audit is designed to intimidate all of the 3,500 local AIDS service groups, which are dependent on federal funding for their existence, into staying silent on Bush’s disastrous AIDS policies.

In October, a dozen congressmen led by L.A.’s Henry Waxman denounced the Bush administration’s removal of medical information on condoms and sex from government Web sites, including those of the CDC and HHS. And Human Rights Watch recently issued a damning report on how Bush’s pushing of abstinence-only has undermined prevention education about AIDS and other STDs (check it out).

While flat-lining domestic AIDS funding for the Ryan White Care Act and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (which provides anti-AIDS drugs to the poor) — both of which are now facing crisis shortfalls in their budgets — Bush has added tens of millions to his 2003 budget for abstinence-only education, now up to $135 million. Rove’s evil genius: The money is used as political patronage for religious-sponsored abstinence programs, particularly in the black and Latino communities — where new AIDS infections are soaring, and where churches are being enrolled to support Bush’s 2004 re-election. (A coalition of 50 organizations — including the American Jewish Congress Commission for Women’s Equality, chapters of Planned Parenthood, a United Church of Christ ministry, the Unitarians and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League — has initiated a campaign to have Congress stop funding abstinence-only programs. Its Web site — www.nonewmoney.org — gives you a simple, clickable way to e-mail your Congress members.)

So, by politicizing AIDS education and prevention both globally and domestically, the Bush administration, in its macabre dance, is helping to push the numbers of new AIDS infections upward. Future generations will judge this for what it is: stomach-turning criminal negligence.

http://www.laweekly.com/ink/03/03/news-ireland.php

This is an article by Jennifer Block that appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of Conscience (the journal of the Catholics for Choice group).

Last December, at the London offices of the sexual and reproductive rights organization International Family Health, employees found a festive musical email in their inboxes. Entitled "The 12 STIs of Christmas," the four-part harmony sing-along began: "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me/a bug that made it hard to pee." Stick figures danced at the bottom of the screen, displaying symptoms of each sexually transmitted infection. By the sixth day of Christmas, true love had brought with it "pubic lice, gonorrhea (five golden rings!), genital herpes, syphilis, chlamydia, and the possibility of HIV." Suffice to say, the state of affairs had not improved by day 12.

"Don't play the sex lottery. Use a condom," was the message following the song, "Worried you've picked up something? Visit www.playingsafely.co.uk."

Who had cooked up this comic little e-card? None other than the UK's National Health Service. Well done, thought activists of their own government.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the US government's strategy for disease prevention was hardly in tune with the philosophy that has taken root around the world-and so masterfully expressed by the Brits: give people accurate, comprehensive information and services and they are more likely to stay healthy. Instead of finding similarly clever ways to disseminate such information to the American public, the Bush administration was actively trying to censor it.

The most blatant attack was the severe gutting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fact sheet on condoms, which had been disappeared from the website in July 2001 and replaced, with significant battle scars, in December 2002. Pre-Bush, the fact sheet had encouraged consistent condom use, advice supported by vast bodies of scientific research that show condoms to be 98-100% effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. "The primary reason that condoms sometimes fail," read the original fact sheet, "is incorrect or inconsistent use, not failure of the condoms itself." Following that statement was user-friendly guidance on proper use. Now, according to the once nonpartisan CDC, abstinence is the "surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases." Along with the condom "how to," the CDC removed the "Programs that Work" section, which summarized several large studies of teenagers that found no increase or hastening of sexual activity among those who were taught about condoms.

Revising the CDC website is just one of the many ways the Bush administration has sought to distort and suppress scientific inquiry, not to mention sound public health policy, that contradicts its so-called family values. "We've been monitoring a deeply unsettling trend where public health science is being supplanted by politics and ideology," says James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a proponent of comprehensive sexuality education. The Bush administration has stacked scientific advisory panels with ideologues who have scant credentials and conflicts of interest; flooded schools with medically inaccurate "abstinence-only" programs; punished HIV/AIDS prevention groups with audits; and gagged overseas healthcare workers who receive US funds, repeatedly exemplifying its willingness to let ideology trump the very pillars of democracy it claims to be defending.

This agenda is so ruthless that members of several domestic sexual and reproductive rights and health organizations speak of a pervasive "climate of fear" created by the Bush administration; a climate in which entities on various levels, from non-governmental HIV/AIDS prevention groups to high schools and even epidemiologists at the CDC, are being pressured to toe the party line.

"The people in the Bush administration are doing everything in their power, on every front, to keep people's mouths shut. And that goes from the top research scientists down to basic health care workers on the ground."

"It's really remarkable," says Mariann Wang, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. "They're really doing everything in their power, on every front, to keep people's mouths shut. And that goes from the top research scientists down to basic health care workers on the ground."

IGNORANCE UNTIL MARRIAGE

In middle and high schools across the country, teachers are being directed to adhere to the Federal Definition of Abstinence-Only Education, which requires that a program teach, among other things, that "a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity" and that any other sexual activity "is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects." By law, teachers cannot "promote or endorse" condoms or show adolescents how to use them, nor can they recognize any relationship outside of heterosexual marriage. Rebecca Schleifer, an HIV/AIDS researcher at Human Rights Watch, led a study of abstinence- only programs in Texas and calls them nothing less than "censorship."

A pamphlet, distributed by the McLennan County (Texas) Collaborative Abstinence Project and obtained by Human Rights Watch, cautions that "condoms have a 17% failure rate; that's 1 in 6." Another piece of McLennan literature reports that a "meticulous review of condom effectiveness" found that they "appear to reduce the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV infection by only 69%" and that condoms break or slip as much as 25.5% of the time.

"We don't talk about contraception or condoms," a master teacher in Laredo, Texas, told Schleifer, "because that would be crossing the line that the state or federal guidelines have set. We don't mention the word 'condoms' at all." A curriculum director in Bell County expressed similar fear of losing federal funding: "We don't discuss condom use, except to say that condoms don't work." Schleifer found that when a sexually active student confronted a teacher, the response was often "well, that's something you did in the past; now you can renew your virginity."

"We call this programming," says Adrienne Verilli of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS), "Not only are they censoring information from young people, teachers feel that their jobs are in jeopardy if they say anything besides 'you should stop having sex'."

Another facet of the McLennan program is television commercials. One shows a dad telling his son to use condoms followed by a voiceover warning, "Condoms will not protect people from many sexually transmitted diseases, and you could be spreading lies to your children." Schleifer spoke to counselors and teachers who heard from teens, including one who was an active intravenous drug user, who said they no longer bothered using condoms because they'd heard on TV they didn't work.

A total of $117 million will go toward abstinence-only programs like McLennan's in 2003, funding that every state but California has accepted, though 38 states-not Texas-still mandate that public schools also teach about HIV and other STDs.

PREVENTION UNDER FIRE

Abstinence-only as disease prevention doesn't stop in high school. All CDC-funded HIV/AIDS prevention spending is currently under review, and comprehensive programs are screeching in their tracks. For instance, an Advocates for Youth parent-child education curriculum, two years in the works for the CDC, was abruptly terminated last summer. "They gave no reason," says James Wagoner, who later heard a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesman tell National Public Radio that the project's videos were too graphic. "Young people used the correct terminology for male and female anatomy," he says. "It's absurd, what is the president going to do? Issue an executive order that henceforth every man, woman and child should refer to the penis as a dingaling?" Advocates for Youth wasn't the only organization to feel the heat; Planned Parenthood and SIECUS were also fielding threats of audits-probably because all three launched the "No New Money" campaign <www.nonewmoney.org> which opposes the taxpayer cash flow toward abstinence- only programs. Sixteen HIV/AIDS prevention groups also came under scrutiny in what activists called a witch-hunt after some of them had signed onto a flyer protesting Tommy Thompson's speech at the xiv International Conference on AIDS in Barcelona in July 2002.

Even before Barcelona, however, the Stop AIDS project in San Francisco went through back-to-back federal audits after Mark Souder, a Republican representative from Indiana, accused the group of "promoting sex" and demanded an investigation. "We spent the better part of 14 months responding to a series of federal inquiries," says Shana Krochmal of Stop AIDS, which not only took hundreds of staff hours, but a psychological toll as well. "This is a staff working with a community that continues to have a lot of reason to think that the government doesn't particularly care whether they live or die," says Krochmal. And as per a recent memo from HHS, Stop AIDS and other prevention groups must now post disclaimers on their website that warn the content "may not be appropriate for all audiences."

"Front line prevention providers are having to divert some of their energy into rearguard action against harassment by the federal public health apparatus," says Mark McLaurin, associate director for prevention policy at Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York. "And the truth of the matter is that the federal public health apparatus and prevention providers ought to be natural allies. We share the same goals. It doesn't make sense, if the CDC and this administration want to reach its stated goal of halving new infections by 2005."

There's new evidence that these tactics are spilling overseas as well to any foreign organization receiving USAID. A January 9, 2003, cable to local fund managers (based all over the world) regarding AIDS prevention emphasizes abstinence and directs that, "All operating units should review their own websites and any websites fully or partially funded by USAID to ensure the appropriateness of the material."

PRESIDENTIAL ADVISORY

Even the scientific community-a group that usually hovers above the political fray- began shoring up its own defenses as it came to light last fall that the Department of Health and Human Services was purging scientific advisory committees of scientists whose research might undermine the Bush administration's political goals and replacing them with thinly credentialed ideologues, who, for instance, agree with raising permissible levels of lead in drinking water and oppose workplace ergonomic standards. The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS is another major battleground. Its co-chair, Tom Coburn, has accused the director of the CDC of "lying" about condom safety and asked that he be fired. These actions prompted scathing editorials in prestigious journals and sharp statements from groups like the American Public Health Association. According to the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, committees must be "fairly balanced" and "not inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority." Donald Kennedy, editor of Science, referenced this law in rebuking the administration: "It would be a good idea for HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and the White House Personnel Office to read the law, and then follow it."

Scientists were also incensed by the manipulation of the National Cancer Institute, which was prompted to revise its stance on a rumored link between abortion and breast cancer (a rumor that traces back to anti-choice groups). While the original web fact sheet maintained that there was no scientific evidence that abortion increases a woman's risk of breast cancer, the revised version called the available research "inconclusive." It took a weekend- long conference, convened in February 2003 with taxpayer dollars, to confirm, again, that there is no compelling evidence to support the anti-choice claims.

"There is a drive for ideology to be the guiding force in all sorts of programs," says Louise Melling, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project. "You see the government using its resources to prohibit dissemination of certain information and in some cases information that's needed to protect people's lives. You sort of want to pull out 1984."

GAGGED FROM DAY ONE

Bush's censorious activities seem to be gaining momentum, but the strategy was evident on his very first day in office, when he reinstated the "global gag rule" (or Mexico City Policy), which literally gags any foreign recipient of US family planning funds from so much as uttering the word "abortion," even where it is legal and even if they use their own funds to do so. The Center for Reproductive Rights (formerly the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy) is suing the Bush administration for violating the first amendment rights of its American attorneys working overseas and calls the policy "government sanctioned censorship-plain and simple."

"The gag rule is the most overt, blatant example of disregard for freedom of inquiry and scientific freedom," says Catholics for a Free Choice president, Frances Kissling. "It is highly violative of common medical ethics." For example, a diabetic woman for whom a pregnancy could be life threatening would not be entitled to receive appropriate medical advice to abort. And on the macro level, the gag rule is "censorious and violative of national sovereignty," Kissling points out, because it actually prohibits health care workers from actively participating in the political process-they can't lobby, attend a rally, go on a march or sign a petition relating to abortion rights. "Here's an administration that wants to spread democracy around the world," says Kissling, "and they want to prevent people from participating in policy?"

"There's a very conservative element in the Department of Health and Human Services that is behind this whole movement," says Barbara Crane of Ipas, an international abortion rights group that turned down $2 million in US funds to protest the gag rule. "What we're seeing on the international side and coming on the domestic front is a tightening vice grip on programs, activities and speech that are involved in reproductive health in any way."

Bush tried to tighten that grip even more with his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a surprise announcement during his State of the Union speech that promised $15 billion in funds over the next five years. It took little time for activists to figure out that the package was a triumph of "Arthur Andersen-style accounting," as Africa Action director Salih Booker told the Nation, and by mid-February it looked like it was really just an excuse to extend the gag rule to HIV/AIDS money. At press time there was a bipartisan effort in Congress against that move, but its ultimate fate remained unclear.

Activists see the "family planning wars" as threatening 20 years of increasingly "client-centered," culturally sensitive care, effective public health policy, and tremendous gains in women's sexual and reproductive rights. And the cumulative effect is government-sponsored fear, intimidation, repression and regression. Shana Krochmal at Stop AIDS argues "we're back to fighting for the very basic ability to talk honestly and openly with people about their lives." Says James Wagoner: "It is unconscionable to promote ignorance in the age of AIDS, and yet that is what's happening."

http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/articles...iesducttape.asp

You can find a whole collection of articles on this subject here:

http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2004/...iers_barrie.asp

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The argument I've heard over and over (within the Catholic community) about HIV and the Catholic Church has always been a simple one. Don't have sex outside marriage and you'll minimise the chances of catching HIV / AIDS. Simple and relatively effective. I'd be amazed to hear any church argue anything other than that message!

Yes … but the problem is that people do.

Once again, the dividing line seems to go between people who want to deal with the world as it really is, and people who want to force the world to conform to abstract principles, irrespective of the amount of suffering this causes to real people.

As I understand it, HIV in Africa is most often transmitted from a married man to his wife, the man having picked up the virus from a prostitute. The wife's only real protection is a condom - since if you could change men's sexual behaviour with sermons, there wouldn't be a problem at all.

Is religious fundamentalism (of all types) the new Communism (on the argument that this sacrificing of real people in the name of abstract principle was the characteristic of Communist regimes too)?

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It is interesting to consider how Pope John Paul II will be judged by historians in a hundred years time. Historians today put a great deal of emphasis on the number of people who have died as a result of the policies of individuals. This is one of the major reasons why Hitler and Stalin are seen in such a bad light. If that is the case, will John Paul II be condemned for the millions who have died because of his views on artificial birth control and Aids?

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