John Paul II Culture of Death... on the Unborn
IN 1980, THE ban on contraception was reaffirmed by John Paul II: "He saw the issues – contraception, divorce, illicit unions, homosexuality – as a dimension of the ‘culture of death’, against which he taught and preached with increasing vehemence". (p133) This is against the background of the HIV/Aids pandemic. The UN Aids organisation estimated that nearly 40 million people had the disease in 2003, and 3.1 million died. The world’s poorest areas are worst hit.
The pandemic can only be controlled by linking the availability of treatment and prevention with tackling the basic social and economic ills of capitalist society. Health-care infrastructure, education, jobs and raising the status of women are essential. Nonetheless, in the immediate battle against this terrible disease, condoms can play a significant role in halting its spread.
In El Salvador, Catholic leaders in 1998 helped ban abortions, even when necessary to save the life of a woman, and to pass a law requiring condoms to carry warnings that they do not protect against HIV, the virus which causes Aids. In Nicaragua, the cardinal pressured the government into destroying sex education pamphlets because they mentioned abortion. In Philippines, all contraceptives were banned from Manila’s health clinics. In Kenya, a church pamphlet stated that HIV can pass through condoms. In October 2003, the Vatican claimed that "serious scientific studies" backed this view. No scientists supported the claim. It was a deadly lie, the real culture of death.
These positions are linked to the Vatican’s reactionary attitudes to women, applied within the church as well as to society. In May 1994, the pope declared that the church could not ordain women. Ratzinger played the infallibility card to stifle debate.
The paedophile crisis and the gulf between the Vatican’s right-wing fundamentalism and the realities of the modern world have hit the Catholic church hard in the northern hemisphere. From the mid-1960s into the 1990s, 100,000 priests (20,000 in the US) and 200,000 nuns left. The number of priests in England and Wales fell from 7,000 in 1980 to 5,500 in 2000. In 1965, 96% of the French population were Catholic, 45% attending Mass regularly. Today those percentages are 62% and 12%.
The church’s grip on peoples’ lives has been weakened. In Italy, about 85% identify themselves as Catholic. A study by the University of Turin showed that 70% approve of premarital sex, birth control and divorce, and the country has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates. Ireland, Italy, Spain and the US all have majorities in favour of the ordination of women. In Spain, reforms introduced by the government of José Zapatero – such as cutting the church’s role in education and introducing same-sex civil partnerships – have further undermined its influence.
Even Poland is not immune. Hanna Rosin wrote about the pope’s visit in 1995: "This time he was in a new landscape of fast-food restaurants and red-light districts. The audience at Victory Square was distracted, and some reporters swore they heard boos. At one point the pope had to shake his fist like a grade-school teacher to get the crowd to listen. ‘When people were free, it turned out they didn’t go to church,’ said [Monsignor Lorenzo] Albacete the New York theologian. ‘They went to McDonald’s’." (Washington Post, 4 April)
The percentage of Catholics in worldwide Christianity has fallen, from over 50% in 1970 to 42% in 2000. The main loss has been to evangelical Protestantism in Latin America and Africa. Latin America has 4-500 million Catholics, Protestants have increased from two million in 1960 to over 60 million today.
Even so, in 1988, there were 401,930 Catholic priests in the world (404,626 in 1998), with numbers rising in neo-colonial countries. A seismic shift from the ‘first’ to the ‘third’ world is taking place. And it is reflected in the US. With 300,000 Catholics arriving each year, Latinos now make up 40% of US Catholics, challenging Irish domination. In 1965, the US Catholic population was 45.6 million, around 64 million today. The number of priests, however, has fallen from 58,632 to 43,634.