Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Melinda Gates speaking in Germany last week on her birth control initiative.  This link will take you to the presentation she gave for  TEDxChange.

The following article from CNN describes the campaign the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is starting in order to provide birth control to regions of the globe which are under served.  In a rational world this initiative would not be very controversial, but Melinda Gates is a practicing Catholic educated by Ursulines. These facts bring in the irrational world of Catholic sexual morality.  For some reason the USCCB has chosen to remain silent on Melinda and her initiative.  At least to this point.  Wonder what that's about?

Melinda Gates responds to contraception program controversy

(CNN) -- Responding to simmering controversy among Catholic bloggers about her new birth control program, Melinda Gates -- a practicing Catholic -- said she will not shrink from her role as an advocate for poor women.

"Part of what I do with the (Gates) Foundation comes from that incredible social justice I had growing up and belief that all lives, all lives are of equal value," said Gates during a recent interview with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

About the flak over her Catholicism she said: "We're not going to agree about everything, but that's OK."

Gates is promoting an ambitious family planning program -- which includes raising billions of dollars to provide contraceptives to 120 million women worldwide -- at the London Summit on Family Planning July 11.

While most Catholics, in the United States, at least, according to polls, seem to agree with Gates that contraception for women is not controversial, some Catholic bloggers are taking issue with the plan.

One blog in particular, LifeSiteNews.com, has frequently published diatribes against Gates, calling into question her faith, and calling her plan a "blatant attack on Catholic sexual morality." (And yet LifeSiteNews is being strangely quiet about Mr Romney's past financial connection to Stericycle,  a company directly making profits off the abortion industry.)

As far as the broader Catholic church stance on the Gates program, CNN requested a comment from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, but did not get a response.

For her part, Gates is trying to deflect the controversy, and concentrate on what she describes as a real need for contraception to empower women.

"I think we made birth control and contraceptives way too political in the United States," said Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "I think if people understood that 200 million women want this around the world they would start to say, 'OK that makes sense.' ... We shouldn't make it such a political issue."  (Maybe it's become a political issue because it failed big time as a religious moral issue.)

According to the Gates Foundation website, the focus of the family planning initiative will be on urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, areas where maternal and infant mortality rates are high and contraception use is low.

"Africa's the one place really in the world, for the most part, that contraceptives haven't been available and it's really been a crime," said Gates. "If you see what's happened in other countries that have had contraceptives, they use them first of all and the birth rates go down. ... The question is could it have come down even more quickly?"

Gates frequently cites research from a decades-long study in Bangladesh as a rationale for family planning. Given the ability to space out their children using birth control, women can begin what Gates calls a "virtuous economic cycle."

The study, started in the 1970s in Matlab, compared a group with access to contraception and birth-control education to a similar group that did not have access to those things.

"(In) the community that had access to contraceptives, the women chose to use them, the families grew up wealthier, fewer women died in childbirth," said Gates. "And what we're seeing happening with that is that it's playing out again all over the world. These small scale things you have in terms of giving a family the access leads to huge economic changes. "

To effect that cascade of economic change worldwide will take $4 billion, according to Gates. The London summit kicks off the Foundation's official campaign for support and funding for that effort.

No doubt, the family planning initiative will roll out despite Catholic protestations, and Gates says this is the issue for which she hopes to be remembered.

"I work on a broad set of foundation issues," said Gates. "But this one for me has really grasped my heart and my mind.

She added: "This will be my lifetime's work at the foundation."


One of the things I've been doing the last week or so is some research on Vatican II, concentrating on people who were actually in Rome during the deliberations.  I  found that Humanae Vitae was an almost larger memory for these folks because it represented the first and largest step in under cutting the ecclesiology envisioned by the Council Fathers. Their vision was about the Church as the People of God, not the Church as hierarchy.  Their vision was about collegiality and the participation of all segments of the Church in making the kinds of decisions like the one on artificial birth control.  Pope Paul's birth control commission was seen to be this idea in actual reality.  There were even five lay women on the commission. Five out of seventy five members wasn't much, but it was an astounding first.

Pope Paul VI dithered over the birth control issue for three years desperately seeking an answer to one question.  The question had nothing to do with the morality of the pill.  It had everything to do with finding a way to pretend that changing the teaching on birth control didn't undermine the perceived infallibility of his predecessors--that it didn't undermine the ecclesiastical foundation on which the hierarchy's teaching authority was based.  I can only imagine the pressure from the conservative curia for Paul not to sanction the recommendations of this upstart commission on birth control.  This was not how things were 'traditionally' done.  It was however, exactly the way Vatican II envisioned things like this would be done going forward.  And Paul wasn't really dithering over the Traditional teaching on the infallibility of the pope so much as he was the tradition as it had developed in the previous 90 years since Pius IX, X, XI, and XII.  He was most concerned with not appearing to invalidate Pius XI's encyclical Casti Connubii, in which all forms of birth control had been condemned, including the Rhythm method.  Popes could not be seen to err.

When it was pointed out to him that Pius XII had already modified and completely undercut the major rationale of Casti Connubii by allowing for the Rhythm method, Paul couldn't seem to grasp that fact. Of course Paul himself had already undercut this encyclical by allowing for the use of birth control pills by missionary nuns in Africa. Somehow he expected his theologians to ignore this act because in reality he was conceding procreation was not the desired end result of heterosexual rape and that could effect the absolute ban on abortion.  The simple laity might see this as the start of a slippery slope or God forbid, moral relativism.  In any event, he published Humanae Vitae and the rest is history.  He lost the blind loyalty of most laity in the West and made the Church remotely complicit in the deaths of  many women and children from childbirth or from famine and disease in the Southern hemisphereThis is why Melinda Gates, fifty years later, is shrugging her shoulders when LifeSiteNews and it's retro followers target her initiative.  Birth control has done more to free women to be a significant and leading part of positive economic change in the poorest parts of the globe.  It has freed women and their children to pursuit education and education is the key to economic prosperity. That's a good thing.


  1. I love that this article follows Sr. Joan's call to be a leader in our world..........AMEN!

  2. Cheers for Melinda Gates and her advocacy for poor women. Sad to say, even though hypocrite Mitt did business with Stericycle, I think the bishops and their allies at LifeSite will go after her because she's Catholic and even more because she's a woman.

  3. The Vatican really painted itself into a corner with regards to the idea of Papal Infallibility. Now it is condemned to the ash heap of irrelevancy as science and society pass it by. As we grow in our humanity as a species (and, indeed, as we should be doing as Christians) we learn that God, or the Universe, is much bigger than our narrow, self absorbed viewpoint. What a shame that the spiritual and intellectual wealth of the Church can not advance into the future due to the lack of humility before the grace of revelation. The idea of Papal infallibility does not allow evolution. In fact, it encourages the epistemic closure of the system it so desperately seeks to protect.

    People like Melinda Gates are proving the truth of Vatican II, that WE ARE the Church, and we grow through our lived experiences. And with informed consciences and deep faith, continue to respond in love and charity to the evolving needs of the human family.

  4. "Africa's the one place really in the world, for the most part, that contraceptives haven't been available and it's really been a crime," said Gates. "If you see what's happened in other countries that have had contraceptives, they use them first of all and the birth rates go down. ... The question is could it have come down even more quickly?"

    This stuff is actually quite dangerous.

    1. Yes, I agree. It is very dangerous. Don't be afraid.

      Matt Connolly

    2. In the 1960's Nigeria, Mali and Malawi had among the highest infant mortality rates in the world. They also had some of the highest birth rates. As many as 4 in 10 children died before the age of 5. Life expectancy for those African countries was between 35 and 40 years while in the West people averaged over 70 years.

      Melinda Gates argues that the use of birth control prevents abortion. There are many other moral goods that result from the use of birth control in poor countries, but primarily the prevention of death of innocent children and women.

      Arguing against birth control is not pro-life. The RC church hierarchy approves, in principle, the use of family planning but hesitates to use technology invented in the past 50 years. The laity, the body of the church overwhelmingly approves the use of birth control by a ratio of 98:2.

      Nigeria has seen a reduction in child mortality of 45% in the last 10 years but there are still more than 140 deaths per thousand. Compare that to the the average Western country's rate of 5, (the USA is 7.5). Even India's child mortality rate is less than half that of Nigeria.

      And what has happened to the birth rates in places like Nigeria and other countries? There is a strong empirical relationship, even without access to modern methods of birth control, that birth rates drop when children can be expected to live to adulthood. Nigerian women averaged 6.8 children at their peak fertility in the late 1970's. Now they average about 20% fewer children at 5.5 children per woman.

      Malawi women average 6.8 children and have an annual income of $360 US. Their existence is marginal. They live in constant danger of death, largely because they cannot afford to feed themselves, let alone provide other necessities like clean water, sanitation, and rudimentary health care. Mali isn't much better. Women average 6.2 children and the average annual income for the country is $427. Nigerian women average 5.5 children. Their country has oil wealth so the average (mean) income is $2,397 US. Brazil has seen big changes since 1970 when women averaged 5 children. Now they have 1.8 children. The country's per capita income increased from $4,284 to $10,373. All facts noted come from gapminder.org


    3. "The laity, the body of the church overwhelmingly approves the use of birth control by a ratio of 98:2."

      We're all sinners, and we all make excuses for sin. Ought we then conclude that the Church has a responsibility to do likewise?

      Obviously not.

    4. Stop it Invictus. You are wrong. This is not excuse making. It is a matter of life and death. Contraception is not sinful. The teachings on "artificial" contraception are not infallible, you know that. They have not been accepted by the members of the church and are not valid.

      I suppose since we are able to blog we have a certain amount of knowledge and opportunity that is not available to the average person (Half the world's population lives on less than $2 per day of income.) None of those 3 billion is sipping a latte at Starbuck's while checking email on a smart phone. Lack of sanitation, nutrition, education and opportunity specifically for women condemns so many to short brutish lives full of hunger, disease, physical suffering, and ignorance.

      Take the time to listen to this documentary about unwed mothers and adoption in Canada in the 1960's: Motherhood Interrupted from CBC Radio One:


      She was 19 years old, pregnant and unmarried and the world was unforgiving. It was the sixties and Sharon Pederson was literally tossed out in the snow and turned into a domestic slave. She was lectured and demeaned. And when her baby was born, social workers forced her to sign her away.

      I suppose you're disappointed that the religious community did not stone her to death, as is the Biblical prescription for her sin. I was quite moved by Sharon's description of her surprise when she found she was pregnant.

      A good Catholic girl, she had asked her maiden aunts why they did not have children. They replied that they had decided not to. Using a teenager's best magical thinking, mistaken for physical fact, in the absence of any knowledge of her own body and how one became pregnant, Sharon decided she would not have a baby. It didn't work. That's the era of ignorance you would have us all return to. That's the promise you hold out to the poorest, sickest, weakest, least educated of our brothers and sisters. That's the type of naivete you promote. You are dangerous.


    5. "This is not excuse making..."

      ...before you go on to make a blatant excuse for contraceptive policy! For the record, sins of uncharity and omission and negligence of education and spiritual formation do not justify sins of contraception and sterilisation.

      The solution doesn't rest in balancing one set of sins with another, but - obviously - in courageous promotion of what is good against what is not.

      Education and spiritual formation are two of those goods - and thus I am not dangerous and (amazing that you need me to spell it out) not in favour of stoning people to death.

    6. You may not be in favor of stoning people to death, but your ideas on the 'evils' of contraception insure millions of children will starve to death. I happen to see that as remote complicity in infanticide.

      Society is always having to balance questions of lesser or greater evil/morality. Sometimes it's done well. Sometimes not.

      Unlike you and Paul VI, I do not value the mythical infallibility of papal teaching--a very abstract concept, above the real lives of real people living in an unjust and very real world.

      It's fun maneuvering abstract moral principles around in your head like inanimate pieces on a chess board, but when one works and lives in the real world, those kinds of exercises about winning and losing at the 'game' of salvation have very little practical use.

      Jesus certainly recognized that which is why He consistently preached His followers act on the teachings, not blather on about the teachings--or toss them around in their heads as a way to categorize who is in and who is out.

    7. Colkoch,

      Africa is generally quite well developed these days. The "millions of children will starve to death" trope is, thank goodness, much less relevant today than it was.
      Even taking your argument from poverty, it's manifestly clear that the cause of those outrageous sufferings lies in economic and social factors rather than in fertile sex.

      Evil is never to be chosen, and can never be justified. We are called to heroic virtue, and in spite of our profound flaws and hopeless weaknesses, it is to heroic virtue that we should aspire.

      (As for painting yourself as morally active and myself as a mere theoretician, I'm content to note the slur and decline your bait. Jog on.)

    8. You missed my point. There is a vast difference between a God and a Faith constructed from abstraction, and one from an Incarnational perspective. If God wanted to stay an abstraction for Temple scholars to define, God would never have Incarnated as Jesus Christ.

      You really need to do some research on infant mortality in Africa and Indonesia. You will find malnutrition, lack of clean drinking water, and the diseases fueled by both are killing children in the millions and millions. You will also find something else. In those countries which have made a real effort to deal with population growth, poverty and the infant mortality rate drops dramatically. And yes, one of the birth control techniques that in some cases is more effect because of remoteness and infrastructure issues, is the Vatican approved NFP. Or would that too be choosing Evil?

    9. There's nothing abstract about the sacraments. We chew God. Catholicism as abstraction is just a hackneyed old protestant propaganda with hilariously little basis in reality. I'm (un)surprised to find it on this Catholic blog.


      Or if that's a bit of an overload


      It's a different world now, and however the world is, we ought to be courageously ethical, not cravenly pessimistic, or Malthusian.

    10. Invictus, you describe sacramental faith as a series of wishes to adhere to, ignoring all contradictions until your wishes come true. So, if Melinda Gates sees the numbers behind contraception and concludes it can be used for good -- just like most of the group commissioned by Pope Paul in the 60's -- well then she must be evil. As must be all who think so. You can't be going to Mass. You can't be a believer. We're the real ones, and you're the abstractions. We chew God, and you don't. I'm courageously ethical to oppose this. You are morally evil to agree. (fingers in ears, singing la la la la la) Malthusians, all of you.

      You know, I don't like it when other people put down your faith (or that of other conservative thinkers). But I must say, you can't recognize the faith of those around you, at least in this milieu, at all. Until you do, this is all just noise. Act your age, and your faith as well.

      Matt Connolly

  5. English theologian Nicholas Lash has described what you write about as 'the tragedy of Humanae Vitae': That the pope, because of his concerns for the authority of the papacy, wrote an encyclical that has damaged the authority of the papacy like nothing else.

  6. This question about birth control made Hans Küng write his book about Infallibillity of the Pope: "Infallible? An Inquiry". Paul VI made nothing about. But on decembre 1979 one of the first decissions of John Paul II was to take his licence to teach away as a Catholic Theologian.
    Strange: Infallibilty or the rights of women...