There’s More Than One Way to Objectify a Woman

While I was looking for podcasts to listen to at work, I came across The Catholic Underground. The word “Underground” gave me hope

The best women have to offer?

The best women have to offer?

for something subversive, a hope which remained sadly unfulfilled. Instead, I got the same old party lines rife with contradictions. (You can listen to the whole show here, but I can’t say I recommend it unless you have 75 minutes to kill and want to do so listening to three guys shoot the breeze and occasionally mention something relevant to Catholicism.)

One of the news items discussed is the Gates’ Foundation’s new technology that puts birth control on a microchip. The article I just linked is the one referenced in the show, and a link to it appears on the show’s page, but one of the hosts made sure to include the disclaimer that the website supports birth control “for all of the usual, silly, illogical reasons” that they’ve gone into before.

When it comes to Catholicism, there’s not much that raises my ire more than three men sitting around calling birth control “illogical” and “silly.” I could fill a whole post with a rant about that (I sort of already did here and here), but that’s not what I’m here to write about. Not exactly.

Later in the show, the hosts discussed brain research showing that when men view images of tools and images of scantily clad women, the same brain area lights up: the area associated with using objects to attain goals. (When men viewed images of attractive but fully clothed women, the brain response was more complex, involving more systems). The hosts used this as an opportunity to bemoan the habit of seeing women as “objects” rather than as full people. I concur that this is unfortunate, even sinful, and that spiritual people especially should avoid cultivating this habit.

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Birth Control: Where Everyone Has an Agenda

I’ve been wanting to write about birth control for months, and the fact that the Supreme Court is debating whether secular employers have a “right” to deny certain kinds of contraception in their health care plans seems as good a reason as any to finally do it.

I have beside me a pamphlet my mom, a public health nurse, gave me in disgust — she works on a daily basis with crisis pregnancies and parents whose kids pay the price for their own unpreparedness to be parents. My mom has always felt that birth control is a Very Good Thing, and she made sure I always knew that the Church had no right to make this decision for her, for me, or for any other woman.

The pamphlet is: “Contraception: Abortion in Disguise“. It attacks hormonal contraception and IUDs for their potential abortive effects — that is, the fact that they can effect change in the uterine lining that makes it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant, in contrast to success rates for the same issue. It also includes long sections on the risks various contraceptives can pose to a woman’s health, including everything from headaches to breast cancer. But never fear, there is hope! The pamphlet ends with a quote from Dr. Rudolph Ehmann, who says, “The only course which will do justice to the complete human being in a dignified manner is, in my experience, Natural Family Planning.”


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The Bishops vs. HHS – What Do You Think?

Recently, a reader of our blog left the following comment on our editorial page:

I would be interested in any thoughts you all might have on the current bishops vs HHS issue. I am trying to sort mine out. I have a number of questions now that, after the Army, I have time to pray, think, and read. This is not a trick question or an attempt at entrapment. I’m really interested.

Oh boy. Suffice it to say, I’m trying to sort my thoughts about this out, too. First of all, I need to be upfront and say I haven’t been following this debate incredibly closely, so I’m happy to defer to or stand corrected by those who know more about it than I do. But essentially, I understand it as this: Catholic employers are being “forced” to include contraception and abortion in health care plans for their employees. I’ve also heard that Catholic hospitals are being “forced” to offer these services, although a very short online search didn’t bring up confirmation of this.

I first heard about this debate when my fiance came to my house outraged after he got off the phone with his uncle who is a priest. His outrage fell on the religious freedom side of the issue. (He felt this mandate trampled on religious freedom and every person’s right to obey their conscience.) Although I understood where he was coming from — I cherish religious freedom, too — on a gut level I couldn’t get to that place of outrage. Because the reality of what this mandate offers women was too important to me. Contraception isn’t a rare or specialized service; it’s something that virtually EVERY adult woman will need at some point in her life, if she wants to a) enter into a sexual relationship and b) not have more children than she can support emotionally, physically, or financially — and there are many, many cases where even just one is too many. So trumping freedom of religion definitely made me squeamish — but so did the thought of women being denied access to safe birth control “just” because they worked for a Catholic organization. I do see contraception as an essential health service, and because the “morality” of denying it causes women to suffer most, I can’t separate my judgment on the issue from the reality of who will be most adversely affected.

When I asked my younger sister about her thoughts on it, she divided the issue as follows: “I think it’s OK for them to force insurance plans to cover those services, because not EVERYONE who works for a Catholic organization is Catholic; those people should have the choice of whether to use those services or not. And if you’re getting insurance through your employer, you don’t get a choice of insurance plans, either. But I don’t think it’s OK to force Catholic hospitals to provide those services, because people can make a choice to go to a different hospital.”

My fiance and I hashed this issue out for a good hour earlier this week, and although he can make strong political arguments on any issue he cares about, I just couldn’t bring myself to choose a side on this one. I felt caught in the crossroads similar to the way I am on the abortion issue: I don’t believe abortion should be illegal, but I don’t agree with having an abortion, either. So I don’t strongly ally myself with pro-choicers or pro-lifers; I’m a “fence-sitter” on this issue that my high school civics teacher once told me you “couldn’t be a fence-sitter on.”

At the end of the night, I finally knew why I felt so trapped, and I told him: “I think they’re BOTH immoral. I think it’s immoral to force a religious organization to do something, and I think it’s immoral to deny women affordable access to contraception.”

So that’s where I stand — still in the middle, but understanding why. I’d love to hear where you stand, too, even if you, like me, hardly know yourself.

Navigating a new bishop – and a new diocese

It seems that the informal theme of the week is trying to find a new church home in a new community!  I have gone to a few churches in the area since moving to Madison, including the parish I grew up in, a church in downtown Madison currently serving as the Cathedral parish, and the one that I like the most – a newer church on the west side.

I know that it is important to recognize the role and influence that a bishop has in a diocese.  I also know that the bishop cannot be the sole representation of the diocese.  Bishop Robert Morlino was installed about five years ago and has been seen as controversial by many.  In social justice circles, he is seen as controversial for allowing local parishes to not allow young women serve as altar servers.  He has also been seen as controversial for his post in serving on a committee for WHINSEC (formerly the School of the Americas).  There are many priests and bishops who support the work of the School of the Americas Watch group, but as of yet I haven’t found any that support the SOA – aside from Morlino.

The latest controversy stems from Morlino’s column in the Catholic Herald on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.  He is critical of the average American Catholic’s use of conscience to make decisions that go against church teaching, such as the use of artificial contraception (the pill and condoms included).  You can check it out for yourself, but he basically says that the lax in moral thinking around contraception by most of the American people has also encouraged a lax in moral thinking for priests who have committed acts of sexual abuse.

Bill Wineke, a local blogger at the Wisconsin State Journal, disagreed strongly with the bishop’s analysis.  The Catholic Herald responded to Wineke, saying Wineke isn’t the Bishop of the Diocese of Madison (no kidding – he’s an ordained UCC minister).  And readers, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, have voiced their opinions.

No matter where we are on the issue of birth control, it seems a little absurd to me to equate that with the sexual abuse of children in terms of how sinful and harmful it is.  It sets me back a little in finding a church home here in Madison – but then I have to keep telling myself that the bishop doesn’t [completely] make the diocese.