The Humana Vitae is rightfully
considered an inhumane document because it’s a fancified way for the
church to play grab-hand with women’s bodies. But recent events
show that the implications of the document go further than controlling women’s bodies
and sexualities and relationships. It’s given supporters (especially
male supporters) the belief that they should also be able to control
and police women’s minds. The first incident involves
Catholic feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, who was offered
a job at the University of San Diego, only to have the offer rescinded. Why? Because Ruether disagrees
with the Humana Vitae, and is a pro-choice Catholic.
There is a constant struggle between academic freedom and Catholic theology
at a lot of Catholic schools, but most coverage of the issue fails to explain
is that these struggles only seem to happen in the area of sex and women’s
rights. Other potential sources of conflict at most Catholic universities
are easily settled in favor of academic freedom, but for some reason,
the idea that women have rights is so incendiary that it requires universities
to completely rethink their approach to the basic concepts of higher
The other big incident was
a bit more comical. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League demanded (doesn’t
he always demand) that DNCC revoke the
press credentials of bloggers
Bitch PhD and Towleroad. The reason? Both blogs don’t
obey Donohue’s definition of good Catholic behavior. Bitch PhD
was especially singled out for being a practicing Catholic who dared
to disagree with Catholic dogma, as defined, of course, by Donohue. (Instances where
Donohue himself disagrees with the Vatican are not considered problematic.)
Observers, including myself,
had to wonder why Donohue thought the DNCC had the authority to bring
female Catholics in line with religious teachings. To his credit,
there seems to be a lot of confusion around this subject, with multiple
people thinking that the combination of being female and being Catholic
means that you lose your religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.
During the Terri Schiavo debacle, Schiavo’s parents and lawyer had
the audacity to claim that Schiavo’s spoken
wishes were secondary to the church’s teachings on euthanasia. Contrary to the hopes and dreams
of Bill Donohue, the Schiavo fanatics, and anti-choice nuts the nationwide,
though, the government actually allows members of the Catholic faith
to reject the dictates of the church. Yes, even female members
maintain their basic rights as citizens. Nor do the major political
parties seem inclined to require religious tests of people who show
up to offer press coverage.
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One shouldn’t be surprised
that conservative Catholics are desperate to find ways to force other
Catholics to believe what they’re told instead of what they want to
believe. After all, according to a a report published
in 2008 by Catholics in Public Life,
most Catholics differ strongly with the conservatives on sexual health
issues. A majority of American Catholics are pro-choice on abortion,
think that health insurance should be required to cover contraception,
think schools should provide comprehensive sex education, and support
stem cell research. That’s a lot of naughty Catholics. Perhaps even more dramatic are results of a recent Catholics for Choice poll, which discovered that 70% of respondents said that the views of Catholic
bishops are unimportant to them in deciding for whom to vote and 73% says they believe Catholic politicians are under no religious
obligation to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend.
the right wingers are appealing to the political parties and to universities
to punish the straying Catholics–bishops can’t find traction, the government can’t do it, and
the "problem" of Catholics showing common sense is out of control.
As amusing as it is to see
hard right extremists flail around looking for some kind of authority
to force those naughty Catholic women acting like they have rights,
it does us well to remember why the Bill Donohues of the world feel they’re
automatically entitled to claim ownership over the consciences and even
bodies of women like Bitch PhD and Rosemary Radford Ruether. It’s
because the church and anti-choice political actors routinely act like
women are not full people, but objects. Oh, you’ll hear many
an anti-choicer act like they’re defending women against being treated
like sex objects, but that’s not because they object to the "object"
part, but the "sex" part. Treating women like reproductive
objects–like flowerpots that have the unfortunate flaws of wills and
voices and opinions–doesn’t really do women any favors. How
about treating us like human beings?
The report for Catholics in
Public Life also showed that, contrary to Bill Donohue’s fondest hopes,
most Catholics aren’t voting with the hopes of shutting up some uppity
women. On the contrary, not only are they pro-choice and pro-contraception,
but most Catholics consider economic issues and the war to be more pressing
issues than the fear that someone, somewhere is getting laid.
In other words, to no one’s great surprise, Catholic voters don’t
differ significantly from other voters in any substantial way.