Commentary Religion

Welcome to Brazil, Pope Francis! Can We Please Talk About Contraception?

Susana Cruzalta

Many who attend events during the pope's visit would welcome an announcement that the Vatican will end its opposition to family planning. It might be too much to hope for, but some of us still believe in miracles.

Pope Francis was greeted by massive crowds in Brazil as he arrived on Monday to help celebrate the Catholic festival known as World Youth Day (WYD). He is, after all, the first Latin American pope in history, and this is his first overseas trip. Catholics and non-Catholics alike are drawn to him because of his attempts to redraw the church as a simple one, with a modest leader who is close to his flock. The pictures of him carrying his own bag up the airplane steps as he departed Italy fit this down-to-earth image perfectly.

His early approach to leadership has renewed the image of the papacy as a charismatic and populist institution. The pope knows that what he says and does is news, and it is telling that many of his early statements were about paying more attention to the poor—a very popular issue among Catholics. His promise to “act decisively” on the sexual abuse crisis also was welcomed. He has moved to reform the Curia—the governing body of the entire church—and the crisis-laden Vatican Bank. These steps have encouraged many people to believe we will soon see a more open church.

However, a key step toward assisting the poor and others—giving them access to contraceptive services so that they may plan their families—has not been mentioned by the pope as of yet.

The pope will find in Brazil a receptive audience, one that has been very active in demonstrations against the enormous public expenditures for the 2014 World Cup, as well as against the economic and social policies of a government many deem to be corrupt. The costs associated with the pope’s visit have also been highlighted by activists, who have planned two major demonstrations in Rio during the coming week. Slutwalk, the global anti-rape movement, has also organized a march in Rio during WYD to draw attention to the violence that nuns suffer within the church and the violence women suffer due to the criminalization of abortion by the Catholic hierarchy.

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Pope Francis’ security during the WYD festivities is a big issue between the Brazilian government and the Vatican. Slums close to the areas where he will be visiting are still a battlefield between various drug gangs and weapons dealers and represent a significant security risk. As late as last Friday, security officials tried to convince the Vatican to tighten security, but the pope has resisted. He will not travel in a bulletproof vehicle and has insisted on visiting a favela.

Pope Francis has experience working in marginal areas and believes that his social justice discourse is linked to the demands of demonstrators. He wants to be as close to the people as possible. He needs to demonstrate with actions what he has declared about our church being a church for the poor.

He knows, too, that he will find in Brazil a church in crisis. When Brazil was founded, Catholicism was the only recognized religion. Today, we have the lowest percentage of Catholics in the history of Brazil: 57 percent of the population. The number of Catholics has decreased dramatically in the last few years. In 1994, 75 percent of Brazilians described themselves as Catholic; in 2010 it was 64 percent of the population.

Unlike in Europe, where the number of atheists or non-aligned individuals has increased, people join other Christian churches in Brazil, which has a long tradition of forming progressive church movements like liberation theology and other well-organized grassroots communities. The crusade launched by Pope John Paul II and continued by Pope Benedict XVI to destroy these movements opened the door to the expansion of other churches. The number of people attending the Evangelical Church has grown from 9 percent in 1991 to 22 percent in 2010.

A recent survey published in the Veja (one of the most popular Brazilian magazines) may explain this change: There is a large disconnect between the Vatican’s teachings and the wishes and beliefs of young people ages 16 to 24. The survey found that 68 percent of them approve of divorce, 88 percent are in favor of the birth control pill, and 97 percent approve of or use condoms. Even among young Brazilians who declare themselves Catholic and will attend WYD events, there is criticism of conservative attitudes and the lack of dialogue within the church.

We do need to remember that on issues of sexuality, the new pope is doctrinally conservative. He does not bring an attractive discourse—for young people—on issues they care about: sexuality education, contraception, and abortion, to name a few. In his first encyclical, called “Lumen Fidei” or “The Light of Faith,” Pope Francis reaffirmed that heterosexual marriage is the only expression of true love. We may or may not hear statements against abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage during WYD, but they will likely fall on deaf ears. If they delve into their welcome kit, WYD pilgrims will find a copy of a bioethics manual from the National Pastoral Commission on the Family, which was created by the Brazilian bishops’ conference (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil). This publication reiterates the hierarchy’s opposition to contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage; condemns stem cell research; and encourages women who have been raped to continue their pregnancies.

Nor is Pope Francis particularly progressive when it comes to women in the church. When he made a call for nuns to be spiritual mothers and not “old maids,” he demonstrated that he has a patriarchal view of religious life, ignoring the fact that the choice to remain single is a dignified life option like any other. Nuns are neither wives nor mothers of anybody; they gave up motherhood for the freedom of their mission. In addition, he continued Pope Benedict’s decision to clamp down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States for the promotion of what the Vatican calls “radical feminism.”

The central aims of the pope’s visit to Brazil will be to revitalize the gospel; strengthen the church, especially in Latin America; and bring young people back to the church. Many who attend his events also would welcome an announcement that the Vatican will end its opposition to family planning. It might be too much to hope for, but some of us still believe in miracles.

Susana Cruzalta is attending World Youth Day events for Catholics for Choice.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

News Politics

Sen. Tim Kaine Focuses on Reproductive Rights Amid Clinton’s Looming Decision on Vice President

Ally Boguhn

Last week, the senator and former Virginia governor argued in favor of giving Planned Parenthood access to funding in order to fight Zika. "The uniform focus for members of Congress should be, 'Let's solve the problem,'" Kaine reportedly said at a meeting in Richmond, according to Roll Call.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) appears to be rebranding himself as a more staunch pro-choice advocate after news that the senator was one of at least three potential candidates being vetted by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign to join her presidential ticket.

Last week, the senator and former Virginia governor argued in favor of giving Planned Parenthood access to funding in order to fight the Zika virus. “The uniform focus for members of Congress should be, ‘Let’s solve the problem,'” Kaine reportedly said at a meeting in Richmond, according to Roll Call. “That is [the] challenge right now between the Senate and House.”

Kaine went on to add that “Planned Parenthood is a primary health provider. This is really at the core of dealing with the population that has been most at risk of Zika,” he continued.

As Laura Bassett and Ryan Grim reported for the Huffington Post Tuesday, “now that Clinton … is vetting him for vice president, Kaine needs to bring his record more in line with hers” when it comes to reproductive rights. While on the campaign trail this election cycle, Clinton has repeatedly spoken out against restrictions on abortion access and funding—though she has stated that she still supports some restrictions, such as a ban on later abortions, as long as they have exceptions.

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In what is seemingly an effort to address the issue, as Bassett and Grim suggested, Kaine signed on last week as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services. As previously reported by Rewire, the measure would effectively stop “TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) laws, forced ultrasounds, waiting periods, or restrictions on medication abortion.” TRAP laws have led to unprecedented barriers in access to abortion care.

Just one day before endorsing the legislation, Kaine issued a statement explicitly expressing his support for abortion rights after the Supreme Court struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law HB 2.

“I applaud the Supreme Court for seeing the Texas law for what it is—an attempt to effectively ban abortion and undermine a woman’s right to make her own health care choices,” said Kaine in the press release. “This ruling is a major win for women and families across the country, as well as the fight to expand reproductive freedom for all.”

The Virginia senator went on to use the opportunity to frame himself as a defender of those rights during his tenure as governor of his state. “The Texas law is quite similar to arbitrary and unnecessary rules that were imposed on Virginia women after I left office as Governor,” said Kaine. “I’m proud that we were able to successfully fight off such ‘TRAP’ regulations during my time in state office. I have always believed these sort of rules are an unwarranted effort to deprive women of their constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.”

Kaine also spoke out during his run for the Senate in 2012 when then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed a law requiring those who seek abortions to undergo an ultrasound prior to receiving care, calling the law “bad for Virginia’s image, bad for Virginia’s businesses and bad for Virginia’s women.”

Kaine’s record on abortion has of late been a hot topic among those speculating he could be a contender for vice president on the Clinton ticket. While Kaine’s website says that he “support[s] the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions” and that he opposes efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the senator recently spoke out about his personal opposition to abortion.

When host Chuck Todd asked Kaine during a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press about Kaine previously being “classified as a pro-life Democrat” while lieutenant governor of Virginia, Kaine described himself as a “traditional Catholic” who is “opposed to abortion.”

Kaine went on to affirm that he nonetheless still believed that the government should not intrude on the matter. “I deeply believe, and not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm,” Kaine continued. “They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As the Hill noted in a profile on Kaine’s abortion stance, as a senator Kaine has “a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood’s scorecard, and has consistently voted against measures like defunding Planned Parenthood and a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.”

While running for governor of Virginia in 2005, however, Kaine promised that if elected he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

After taking office, Kaine supported some existing restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which in 2008 he claimed gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute.

In 2009 he also signed a measure that allowed the state to create “Choose Life” license plates and give a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network, though such organizations routinely lie to women to persuade them not to have an abortion.