By Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

Pope Francis surprised us with his admonition to his church: Place less emphasis on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality and more where it makes a difference for “the wounded.” The Roman Catholic Church has become obsessed with these hot button issues of personal behavior, making them the most important doctrinal positions of the church and pushing issues of social justice, like the plight of the poor, to the background. The Pope said that has to change. But what does that mean in real life?

At a dinner party on the night after “America” magazine released the Pope’s statements, one faithful Roman Catholic declared, unhappily, that the call is for a change in style only, that nothing has really changed because there is no change in doctrine. After all, she went on to note, her own Archbishop had declared immediately that this was all the Pope meant. “Stylistic change only” was indeed the interpretation of many bishops and officials of the church, and the Pope offered assurance that there was no doctrinal change. So, will the words of Francis prove to be of little impact on the ground, or will the foundations be shaken?

I personally agree with what the Lutheran historian Martin Marty said in a response posted here: “Francis means it!” I take that to mean that Francis intends to see his words come to life in the church, not by changing doctrine — which isn’t necessarily the point — but by changing the church’s practice.

I offer two places we can start looking to see if this pope is able to change the way Roman Catholics have combined with evangelical conservatives to influence the social and political life of the United States: elective politics and Planned Parenthood centers. In each case, the church has allowed issues regarding sexuality and procreativity to trump other needs — problems the church has been in favor of redressing but…not as much as it has been concerned with abortion, homosexuality, and contraception. Read More…


The great historian Martin E. Marty wrote an insightful response concerning statements that Pope Francis made in an interview with “America” magazine.

By Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

The headline on a Thursday (Sept. 19) news story linked the Catholic Church’s “focus on gays” and “abortion,” and, said the same headline, Pope Francis “bluntly faults” those who have focused on that focus.

What struck, or should strike, all readers who read on, is this: Pope Francis means it! His comments do not have the weight of an encyclical, a long-thought-out formal church teaching, but he knows from response to what he has said earlier, that there will be a huge response. His words are not small-print filler at the end of a Sunday church bulletin; they have to have been thought out, and he is broadcasting them.

Reaction? One can picture the most outspoken and sensationalist Catholics-on-the-right, who thought they had captured the ear and voice of modern pontiffs, jumping out of the windows — without parachutes, just as some did when Wall Street crashed in 1929. They had their innings to enjoy Schadenfreude as popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had “bluntly faulted” those who took Vatican II reforms seriously. Now the temptation will be strong for those faulted in recent decades to leap up with a “hooray for our side” shout, which they hope will be numbing to the new poor losers. Read More…


By Orissa Arend

Let me start off by saying that this is an anti-abortion rant. A friend asked me to write an article on the kick-off for construction of the Planned Parenthood health clinic on Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. Ninety-seven percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are dedicated to primary care, education and preventative medicine. Lord knows we need that with Louisiana ranking first in syphilis and gonorrhea infections and fourth in AIDS. These are health problems which City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell notes disproportionately fall upon African American women. Fifty percent of all pregnancies in Louisiana are unintended. Access to contraception has been shown to reduce abortion rates.

I knew I couldn’t interview people or even think about writing the article without confronting people’s feelings about abortion — and also my own. I didn’t want to do that. And because I didn’t want to, it gradually became apparent to me that I had to.

The way I wiggled into my decision about this writing was to devise a questionnaire. Cut to the difficult chase. What are your thoughts and feelings about abortion from a personal, moral, political/legal, professional, and spiritual point of view? Do any of these conflict? Have you had an abortion? What was theexperience like? Should a father play a part in a mother’s decision about abortion? Do you consider a fetus a life with rights, a life without rights, a potential life, something else? Does the stage of the fetus influence your answer? Do you think that a fetus at any stage should have legal protection? If so, what penalties should apply and to whom? In a perfect world would you envision zero abortions? That was the only question to which I got a universal and unqualified “yes.” Comment here.

I only interviewed people whose values I highly respect. Answers ranged from: “abortion is never morally permissible even to save the life of the mother,” to “it should always be the woman’s choice at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason.” The purity and consistency of each of those positions appeal to me. The former is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church according to the Catechism: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” The Catholic Church does, however, recognize as morally legitimate certain acts which indirectly result in the death of a fetus, for example, removal of a cancerous womb.

This is not my belief. But I can understand the outrage of my pro-life brothers and sisters because I would feel the same outrage if I thought our country legally and morally accepted infanticide. Laws vary from state to state about why and when abortion is permitted.


By Jon O’Brien

Jon O'Brien, President of Catholics for Choice

Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice

Every time there’s a papal election, Catholics and non-Catholics alike turn their eyes to Rome, and sometimes wonder why they do so. Those who are not Catholic, and those who are, may feel alienated by what they hear from the Vatican when a pope is firmly in place, so why pay attention to cardinals jockeying (secretly) for power? The reason is that the person who sits on the Throne of St. Peter matters. Though he may reside in tiny Vatican City, the pope and his representatives are in nearly everyone’s backyard: through the global reach of Catholic healthcare, a privileged role at the United Nations, as the head of a church a billion strong, and because what he says generally makes the papers. And though we don’t have a vote in the conclave, when the white smoke billows out of the Sistine Chapel, we all have a stake in the result.

For example, Catholic healthcare provides approximately 25 percent of all AIDS care worldwide. Here you can see some of the best of Catholic values in practice, but unfortunately they are often held back by some of the hierarchy’s worst ideas. As pretty much everyone knows, doctors, nurses, and counselors at Catholic facilities are often forbidden to distribute condoms as part of HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment programs. So despite the best intentions of healthcare providers, and notwithstanding the fact that the money used for these programs comes from many people who absolutely know condoms are critical in the fight against AIDS, patients just can’t get what they need because the Vatican bans condoms. Read More…