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.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Kaine Calls for Congress to End Recess to Combat Zika

Ally Boguhn

Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump punted when asked about his own plan to combat Zika if he was in office today.

This week on the campaign trail, both Democrats and Republicans at the top of the ticket weighed in on combatting Zika, and the Donald Trump campaign released a list of economic advisors that failed to include a single woman.

Kaine Calls for Congress to End Recess to Combat Zika

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, said that “Congress should not be in recess when Zika is advancing,” during a speech in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Tuesday.

The Virginia senator reportedly went on to urge Congress to “pass a $1.1 billion bill to combat Zika without what he called the ‘poison pill’ of anti-abortion language added by House Republicans,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

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Kaine had previously voiced support for ensuring that Zika funding could go to Planned Parenthood—something that the version of the Zika bill blocked by Democrats would have prevented. He was one of more than 40 Senate Democrats to add his name to a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) this week urging “both the Senate and the House back into session to pass a real and serious response to the burgeoning Zika crisis.”

Republicans criticized Kaine for not voting through that bill, accusing him of playing politics with the vote. “With new cases of the Zika virus being reported in Florida every day it is becoming clear that with his party-line vote to block crucial Zika funding Tim Kaine put his loyalty to the Democrat Party over the health of Sunshine State residents,” said Republican National Committee spokesperson Natalie Strom in a statement to the Miami Herald. “He owes the hardworking people of Florida an explanation for his playing politics at their expense.”

Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Trump punted when asked by West Palm Beach’s CBS 12 about what his own plan to combat Zika would be if he was in office today.

“You have a great governor who’s doing a fantastic job, Rick Scott, on the Zika,” said Trump. “And it’s a problem. It’s a big problem. But I watch and I see. And I see what they’re doing with the spraying and everything else.” 

“And I think he’s doing a fantastic job, and he’s letting everyone know exactly what the problem is and how to get rid of it. He’s going to have it under control, he probably already does,” added Trump.

When the reporter pressed Trump to discuss whether a special session should be held by Congress to review a bill to help combat Zika, Trump again said he would leave it up to the Florida governor. “I would say that it’s up to Rick Scott. It depends on what he’s looking to do because he really seems to have it under control in Florida,” said Trump.

No Women Made Trump’s List of Economic Advisors

Trump’s campaign released a list of economic advisors Friday who had one noticeable trait in common: they were all men.

“I am pleased that we have such a formidable group of experienced and talented individuals that will work with me to implement real solutions for the economic issues facing our country,” said Trump in a press release announcing the list. “I am going to be the greatest jobs President our country has ever seen. We will do more for the hardworking people of our country and Make America Great Again.” 

According to the release, “Additional members of the Advisory Council will be added at later dates.” Many in the media have noted that in addition to the lack of women on the council, there are also very few actual economists.

The gender disparity in Trump’s current list of economic advisors mirrors a similar lack of representation of women discussing the topic in the media. According to a recent study conducted by media watchdog Media Matters for America, in the second quarter of 2016 women appeared as guests in less than 25 percent of analyzed evening and prime-time television discussions focused on the economy.

Though there is a gender gap in economics, 32.9 percent of those earning doctorates in the field are women, according to a 2014 report from the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. 

As the Washington Post’s Jim Tankersley and Jose A. DelReal reported, in contrast, Clinton’s “economic advisers include several longtime Democratic policy hands … and several women, including Ann O’Leary, Maya Harris, Neera Tanden, Heather Boushey and Laura D’Andrea Tyson.”

The lack of women on Trump’s list, however, isn’t surprising given that the Republican nominee was also unable to name a single woman he would consider appointing to his cabinet if elected, other than his daughter, when asked about it this week.

“Well, we have so many different ones to choose,” said Trump when asked which women he would name to his cabinet. “I can tell you everybody would say, ‘Put Ivanka in, put Ivanka in,’ you know that, right? She’s very popular, she’s done very well.”

“But there really are so many that are really talented people,” he continued without offering any serious candidates.

What Else We’re Reading

Though both House Speaker Ryan and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have both already offered Trump their endorsements, the Republican nominee said that he is “not quite there yet” on endorsing them.  

During a CNN town hall event on Tuesday, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson admitted that his head has “been in the sand” when it comes to law enforcement “discriminating” against people of color.

Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti reported that Kaine “is expected to play a major behind-the-scenes role on the money circuit, in addition to his public campaigning.”

Roll Call’s Simone Pathé asked whether Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ (R-TN) “abortion hypocrisy” will haunt his primary race.

The State of Texas has agreed to modify its voter identification law ahead of the November election.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler fact-checkedDonald Trump’s revisionist history of mocking a disabled reporter.”

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.


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