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The Sisters who cheer on Melinda Gates’s birth control campaign seem eager to drop Church teaching for their own ‘core values’

The statement by the Ursuline Sisters of Dallas is a hotchpotch of vagueness

By on Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Melinda Gates (PA photo)

Melinda Gates (PA photo)

I blogged recently about Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates and a co-director with her husband of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a multi-billion charity aimed at the Third World. With the help of an enormous budget, Melinda has launched a new “No Controversy” campaign to spread access to birth control in the developing world. As I mentioned in that blog, although describing herself as “a practising Catholic” she is publicly critical of the Church’s stance on contraception and has stated that “it is important to question received teachings”, especially “the one saying that birth control is a sin”.

I don’t plan to answer this last statement in this blog, except to say that the Church always defends the true conjugal dignity of couples wanting to space their children and that the late Dr John Billings (for whom I had great respect and with whom I used to correspond) and his wife, Dr Lyn Billings, found a willing receptiveness in Communist China, both from local officials and couples, in teaching their method of natural family birth regulation in accordance with Church teaching. The same is true of Mother Teresa’s nuns among the Hindu poor in Calcutta.

I might add that according to a report from the C-Fam News agency, the “injectable contraceptive favoured by the Gates Foundation is Depo-Provera, which can cause early abortions by preventing a newly conceived zygote from attaching to the uterine wall”. Gates’s goal is to make contraceptives available to 120 million women by 2020, using a $4bn budget.

However, what interests me here about Mrs Gates’s campaign, launched at a recent conference in Berlin, is that she appears to be supported by the nuns of the Ursuline Academy of Dallas where she received her education. It seems the nuns contacted her after her conference speech by a phone call to her hotel room to say: “We’re all for you. We know this is a difficult issue to speak on, but we absolutely believe that you’re living under Catholic values.” Mrs Gates found this support “just so heartening”.

A formal statement was then issued by the president of the Ursuline Academy, Sister Margaret Ann Moser, which said that the nuns “are proud of Melinda French Gates, her dedication to social justice, her compassion for the undeserved and the great work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.” The president added that “Melinda Gates leads from her conscience and acts on her beliefs as a concerned citizen of our world”. She emphasised that “the mission of the Ursuline Academy of Dallas is to educate young women for such leadership.”

Sister Moser also said that the Ursuline order is committed “to the social and doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church”. While recognising that “Melinda’s beliefs on birth control are different from those of the Catholic Church”, the Sisters “respect her right to speak from her research and experience of the world we live in”.

What is there to comment about all this? Briefly, the phrase “Catholic values” used on its own can mean what you want it to mean; the question is: does Mrs Gates believe the Catholic teachings from which right values flow? Again, the phrase “social justice”, divorced from Catholic social and moral teaching, can mean anything; in this case it involves a deep injustice towards Third World couples. The same comment can be made about the word “compassion”; once you have used it, any criticism infers a lack of compassion – ie how dare those nasty Catholics talk about “compassion” when they want to keep Third World women in the Dark Ages, and so on.

Further, use of the phrase “leads from her conscience” begs other questions: how do we discern if our conscience is telling us the truth? Has it been formed by fidelity to Church teachings or by the secular world? Finally (a breathtaking contradiction), the Ursulines both recognise that Mrs Gates dissents from Church teaching while at the same time respecting “her right to speak from her research and her experience of the world we live in”. This of course suggests that such “research” is obviously valid and that the Church has little “experience” of the real world (run as it is by elderly celibates in the Vatican and so on). One could hardly invent such a hotchpotch of vagueness, suggestiveness and plain disingenuousness if one sat down and tried. No wonder Mrs Gates commented: “You know, the nuns who taught me were incredibly progressive.”

After reading Sister Moser’s statement I checked out the “mission, core values [that word again] and philosophy” of the Ursuline Academy of Dallas. It speaks of the “total development of the individual student through spiritual formation, intellectual growth, service to others and building of community…Dedicated to the Church’s mission of communicating the Gospel, the academy seeks to foster the message of God’s love… in support of Gospel truths and values” (what a loaded little word this is becoming). There is also mention of “communal openness to truth in all its forms”. It all sounds like James Murdoch describing, in his Harvard Business School kind of jargon, the “core values” of his father’s media empire.

A priest I used to know was sent to a parish that had slowly been taken over by lay committees dedicated to compassionate values; it had inevitably become a hotbed of liberal heresies. He immediately nailed to the door of the church the motto “Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia” (“Where there is Peter, there is the Church”) ie where there is fidelity to the teaching authority of the successor of St Peter, the first Pope, there is the Church.

Perhaps when they use the word “Church” so freely, the Ursuline Sisters of Dallas and Melinda Gates should remember this?

  • Gavin Wheeler

     This is only the third comment I have made on this thread. Where have I repeated myself? Given how much repetition I see from other posters, often simply repeating a statement of their position in lieu of addressing a criticism or query of that view, why would that be a problem?

    Bert has ‘replied’ to my first comment, but not answered the question in my second comment. His response to my first question might make some sense if I assume that he does believe that Catholic doctrine forbids nuns from acknowledging people’s right to free speech where that means disagreeing with the Catholic Church, but that seems an extreme viewpoint and I would like to be sure if that was indeed what he meant.

  • JByrne24

    I can’t accept that couples using the pill are less “accepting” of a child born to them than those using thermometers and graphs.

    The Bible is an error-strewn and contradictory account of God’s works and teachings. The Church’s teaching is always the interpretation of Jesus’ teachings, and the opinions of fallible men.

  • JByrne24

    I think this comment by a fellow poster might help to explain:

    “In 1967 the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, consisting of 72 eminent people (theologians, seven cardinals, 16 bishops, 12 doctors and some married lay people), agreed almost unanimously that it was time to change the teaching on contraception. Unfortunately Paul VI did not agree with them.”

    This strongly indicates that the great majority of informed (including clerical) opinion in the Church believes that the teaching on contraception should be changed.
    But the pope, at the time, disagreed (and the present pope would doubtless disagree today). 

    At times the Church emphasises that it is the aggregate sum of all its members in Christ.  
    However it is guided by the view of a single fallible man.

    So the opinion and view of the great mass of the Church is that the teaching on this is wrong (and most Catholic couples practice contraception) – but the official papal view is that it is correct.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    I am afraid that reply is much too full of error to bother with in detail. Virtually every statement in it is either false or misleading. Aquinas, and/or Popes, did use natural law to justify slavery capital punishment, torture etc  and condemn the other things I listed; Popes kept hundreds slaves up until the eighteenth century, there is no mention of birth control in the Didache, etc etc.

    How can it be right to use so many lies to try to win an argument on morality? It is very easy to check these things for yourself before posting so there is really no excuse.

  • JessicaHof

    I am afraid that to this non-Catholc that sounds terribly like ‘we’ll agree with the Pope when he agrees with those who agree with us, but not otherwise’. I usually think of that as Anglicanism – do come across and join us. :)

  • Harrykielty

    Why cannot those religious and lay who cannot accept the Moral authority of the Church and the Pope stop pretending, and just leave the Church whose authority they reject?
    Then those of us who do can get on with living our lives according to the Teachings of our Holy Mother Church.
    The Catholic Church has never pretended to be a democracy.

  • JByrne24

    I was waiting for theroadmaster’s reply with interest since you had so well nailed him to specific points on which he was obliged to respond. But he simply reinvented history.

    Well done!

    He wrote however: “I would have to say that the teachings of the Church evolved on this subject…”. Maybe that’s a step in the right direction – the idea that the Church DOES change its teachings. But I expect it’s only a slip of the finger, caused by his very obvious confusion.

  • theroadmaster

    Those teachings that you are referring too changed because custom and secondary considerations allowed evolution.  They were not fixed on Natural law. Thus I have not been “nailed” as you put it.  

    The sexual act is inextricably linked to procreation and this has been Church teaching since the earliest Apostolic days.  It won’t change because to separate those two aspects of the sexual act would infringe the natural understanding and moral considerations which surround it

  • Womanofvalor

    One of the arguments for contraception was that it would lead to less abortion. However abortion has increased year on year. Contraception gives one the impression that you are safe. The thing is about thermometers and graphs is that although they are as statistically reliable as the pill, as I said above, they make you aware that a child is possible and therefore in order to rely on this Gorman of contraception you are far more likely to ensure that you are in a secure committed relationship prior to sex i.e. Marriage. You are therefore more likely to accept a child therefore less abortion.
    Your final statement kind of proves Francis’ point. If you are Catholic you believe that the Bible is human and divine, just like the Church. However in relation to doctrine affirmed by the Church that Jesus will speak through her in order that we as Christians can know what has been ‘bound and loosed’ in order that the ‘gates of hell will not prevail’.
    If you don’t believe this you are at best a Protestant, denying the authority of the Church and the vicar of Christ. This is the point Francis is making. As Catholic nuns they should not be supporting people in their belief that they can pick and choose doctrine that has emerged from a Church council.

  • Womanofvalor

    Neither Francis or Bert are saying that Catholic doctrine forbids nuns from acknowledging people’s rights to free speech. But an acknowledgment of Melinda Gates’ right to free doesn’t appear to be the intention of the nuns. They have supported her in what she has said and commended her on it. This is a different matter.

  • theroadmaster

    Let us take the first paragraph in relation to my statement that global societies have for thousands of years recognized the union of one and one woman which is open to procreation as the essential elements which constitute marriage.  This statement is historically true.  There have been periods when polygamous arrangements were accepted as in Islamic parts of African and the Middle-East, but my statement still stands.Church and civic laws which prohibit acts such as murder, theft etc are based on the Natural order regarding correct human behavior and have hardly been altered  over the centuries.  The Church teaching on slavery did evolve because it was regarded as a social convention that was allowed since ancient times in global societies and early Church teachings tried to ameliorate the unjust conditions of it, by exhorting masters to treat their slaves kindly without trying to abolish the institution. Gradually those teachings could be felt in Medieval Europe as slavery became practically exttinct there. Thomas Aquinas did issue strong words against the coercion and loss of human liberty involved in slavery.  He stated that one of  the great injustices “is that of slavery, in which the ruler manages the subject for his own [the ruler's] advantage.”  I would never excuse the ownership of slaves by a number of popes but it should be recognized that papal condemnations of the effects of slavery got stronger around the period when Spanish and Portuguese colonists were exploring the Americas during the 15th-16th centuries.  Here are a few examples of what I mean-Pope Eugene IV (1431 to 1447), he issued a bull, Sicut dudum. This pope did not use ambiguous words in this document. With a threat of communication hanging over them, he gave everyone involved fifteen days from receipt of his bull “to restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands…These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money”.  Pope Paul III (1534 to 1549) in his  bull  “Sublimus Dei”-”….Therefore, We…noting that the Indians themselves indeed are true men…by our Apostolic Authority decree and declare by these present letters that the same Indians and all other peoples—eventhough they are outside the faith…should not be deprived of their liberty or their other possessions…and are not to be reduced to slavery, and that whatever happens to the contrary is to be considered null and void…”   Church teaching on capital punishment evolved down the centuries in a similar way as the reservation to execute people for grave crimes like murder was viewed as the prerogative of kingdoms or civil societies since ancient times.  Your comment on the Didache is erroneous and has to be corrected.  I have given you the relevant condemnation in this Apostolic document concerning the use of contraceptive methods to prevent conception.  Perhaps you should read some material on this before commenting again on it.
    As I have stated, the Church will never change her teaching regarding the immorality of contraception as it has been condemned since the Patristic days of the early Christian centuries

  • Patrick_Hadley

    First the Didache – please read it for yourself. It does not say anything at all about birth control. If you are reading a version that does then it is a fake and fraud; from the spelling one committed by an American. If you have been duped by someone who deliberately falsified a sacred text, does it not make you wonder what else you have been told that is also a lie? 

    Your knowledge of the history of slavery is extremely limited. You are fooling yourself if you just gather together the handful of texts showing occasions when Popes were opposed to particular cases of slavery, but omit the whole picture of centuries of support from Popes for the slave trade in Africa, and Popes turning prisoners of war into galley slaves as late as the 18th century. Have you read this from Pius IX 20th June 1866 ““Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons…. It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given”. 

    As for your comments about teaching on slavery or capital punishment evolving according to the times, that sounds dangerously like relativism to me. Do you really think that what is right and wrong varies according what the world thinks, so that when the world thought slavery was fine the church was right not to oppose it?  If something is immoral then it is always immoral, and was always immoral. 

  • Gavin Wheeler

     Look again at my first comment, and Bert’s rather rude response.

    Unless he IS asserting that the RCC’s Code of Ethics forbids those nuns from “respecting” M. Gates’ “right to speak from her research and her experience of the world we live in” then how is his comment relevant to mine? In particular how does it justify his accusation of ‘ignorance’ on my part?

    The original article very clearly and explicitly criticises the Nuns for saying that they respect M gates’ right to freedom of speech.  Even if you wanted to interpret the sentence I quoted as criticising their statement that M Gates dissented from RCC teaching (!) the rather preposterous arguments given in the subsequent sentences leave no ambiguity.

    I’m still waiting for you to justify your claim that I had repeated myself in my second comment, or that Bert had already responded to my question.

  • theroadmaster

    I have read it and there are references in it to contraceptive methods of preventing conception.  Let me give you one more-
    “Thou shalt not use magic ; thou shalt not use drugs .”  Experts believe that this is a reference to magic charms and potions to prevent the birth of a child and by extension a contraceptive practice.  Outside the Didache, we have innumerable condemnations of it by early Church Fathers, both of the Western and Eastern traditions e.g Clement of Alexander and Hippolytus, to name a few.You say my knowledge of slavery is “extremely limited”.  Yet I am able to give you a potted but accurate summary of how Christianity tackled this scourge over the centuries.  I think my knowledge may be somewhat larger than your’s.  Slavery was embedded in ancient societies within the jurisdiction of the Roman, Greek and Egyptian empires.  St Paul and his fellow apostles  had to pragmatically weaken it by teaching those who owned slaves to treat them like brothers or sisters in Christ.  Christ Himself said nothing about abolishing slavery as a social Institution but preached about the liberation brought about through love of one’s fellow man or woman.  This in itself would morally break the bonds of such condition as slavery.  The slavery that the ancient Fathers and Medieval scholars like St Thomas condemned was the “chattel” slavery which involved slave-masters treating their slaves as possessions without regard for their welfare.  This situation was very evident during the southern States of the 19th C which played no small part in provoking the very bloody American civil war.  During the ancient and Medieval period the milder form of ownership of people e.g indentured servitude was tolerated i.e a person gave their labor to a debtor until it was paid. One must not conflate this with the forced capture and brutal enslavement of people which formed the basis of the slave trade in the British Caribbean or Americas during the 17th-19th centuries.  It is a nuanced approach to the whole question of slavery, although it must be said that indentured labor nowadays is greeted as unacceptable.  Your citing of the words of Pius X1 in 1866 need a context which you fail to give. I don’t think that he was referring to the “chattel” slavery as described above.  There are 3 conditions that we should consider in relation to his words.  (1) penal servitude; (2) indentured servitude; and (3) the servitude of prisoners captured in just wars.  In any case the pope was not exercising anything like an infallible pronouncement when authoring these words.   It is not unlike the abortion debate. Some like to see it abolished altogether but some people take a more subtle approach, realizing that it will not be abolished in one fell swoop.  Thus they want to erode it through an education process which will eventually end in it’s demise through piecemeal legislation .  I personally wish that popes would have denounced slavery in more clear terms than they did, but we do have instances of firm condemnation by popes during the colonial expansionist period in the Americas, as shown in my previous comment.The ending of slavery finally came thankfully through the good work of quakers and other abolitionists  in the American colonies during the 18th/19th centuries and their British equivalents in the same period.  Catholic activists got rid of it in countries like Brazil and their inspiration was the basic Catholic teaching that all men and women were equal in worth and integrity.I know where your utilization of seemingly contradictory statements by popes is leading.  You want to demonstrate that present Catholic policy on contraception can be reversed in a similar way to the progression of Church doctrine on such issues as slavery.  But there is no comparison as Church teachings against contraception have been clearly set since the early Apostolic period and will remain so, due to well established Christian tenets on sexual matters and relationships.  To reverse this, would be to go in the opposite direction to the progress that the Church has made concerning such issues as slavery and capital punishment.

  • JByrne24

    Those following this discourse (which I trust is unfinished) may wonder which edition and translation of the Didache the theroadmaster is using. In the meanwhile they may also be interested in researching facts about it.
    The Church has never placed any particular importance on this document – its providence being unknown. The Majority Report of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control (68 in favour and 4 against) entitled “Responsible Parenthood” can be read here:


  • Patrick_Hadley

    Not true. The church was very democratic for hundreds of years. In the early church bishops were elected by the faithful, and this was at a time when no other rulers were elected by general suffrage. In those early centuries vacancies for bishop, even for bishop of Rome, were filled after prayer and vote by the people. It was the election by the people of God that confirmed the authority of the bishops. 

    The doctrine of the sensus fidelium tells us that the Holy Spirit will not allow the faithful as a whole to deviate from the truth. Before 1968 there was never a time in the history of the church when the faithful as a whole did not accept a papal teaching. The fact that Humanae Vitae has not been accepted as true by the vast majority of Catholics who go to mass every Sunday shows that it cannot be true.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    “theroadmaster” used inverted commas to misquote the Didache claiming it said, “You shall not practice birth control”. Since he is not even going to admit that he was either lying or had been lied to, it is pointless trying to argue with him. 

  • http://twitter.com/wakeuptoexist TCH

    I have only one question. Will Melinda Gate’s work bring people into the Catholic Church? Is Christ at the center of her project, or is HER PROJECT the center of her project? Same for the Ursuline sisters…something tells me they don’t have any new vocations? Why? Because they are more interested, more in love with themselves and their own projects of social justice than Christ himself. It’s sad to think that an order founded by a Saint would cease to exist because of a few women who forgot their own humanity.

  • Susanneschuster

    It’s hard to take a stand against The Catholic Church, Because they are Male, old, rich, etc, but they have not been pregnant and will not get pregnant and really really like to have women, barefooted, uneducated, powerless and under their control.  They really think it is God’s will, the “Jesuits tells them so”. Thank Goodness we have a free will,  though they are trying to make us fell Guilty about that too.
     Susanne Schuster P.S. I too was educated by the Ursulines in Louisville……They are not Vague

  • Susanneschuster

    So male-ugly

  • Susanneschuster

    There are presently ore non-practicing Catholics that practicing ones. 

  • edd333

    They really need to nail that letter to their door!