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The Bishops and Women
Women for Faith & Family Archive

updated 11/21/2008

Women for Faith & Family is preparing a new section on our web site that will provide an archive on on "women's issues" and the US bishops' conference -- from 1984, when the Bishops' Committee on Women began a nine year effort to produce a pastoral letter on "women's concerns", until their most recent conference document, on professional lay church workers ("lay ecclesial minisers") of November 2005.

Women for Faith & Family was organized in 1984 in response to the US bishops decision to write on "women's concerns" -- in part to counter the view that most Catholic women felt oppressed by the Church and her teachings. (See WFF History, and Affirmation for Catholic Women)

In 1992, after several drafts and extended debates, the conference voted not to issue the draft pastoral letter (then titled "One in Christ Jesus") as an official document of the entire conference; but only as a statement of the BCOW to its Administrative Committee. However, that did not end the response of the conference to "women's concerns", as subsequent actions would show.

An account of how this process developed within the bishops' conference during these years sheds light on the effect and persistence of radical feminist ideology within the Catholic Church in America during the final decades of the 20th Century -- and the counterweight of Catholic women's affirmation of Church teaching.

Much of this record exists only within the files of Women for Faith & Family; thus, an archive of key WFF publications and documents will be of historic interest. We hope to have the archive covering the years 1984-2005 completed by the end of this year. Clearly, "Women in the Church and in Society" remains a topic of concern, action and controversy.


Posted November 21, 2008

US Bishops Speak Out on Implications of “Freedom of Choice Act”

A principal focus at the November 2008 US Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore was on the dire implications of legislation that would nullify all state and national limitations on abortion. Known as the “Freedom of Choice Act”, this legislation has the support of President-elect Barack Obama, who promised that it among his first acts as President would be to sign this into law.

An early warning about dangerous impending legislation on abortion came in a September 30 letter for use during October, Respect Life Month. The letter, written by Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the Pro-Life Committee, said, in part:

Today, however, we face the threat of a federal bill that, if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket. The “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA) has many Congressional sponsors, some of whom have pledged to act swiftly to help enact this proposed legislation when Congress reconvenes in January.

FOCA establishes abortion as a "fundamental right" throughout the nine months of pregnancy, and forbids any law or policy that could "interfere" with that right or "discriminate" against it in public funding and programs.

If FOCA became law, hundreds of reasonable, widely supported, and constitutionally sound abortion regulations now in place would be invalidated. Gone would be laws providing for informed consent, and parental consent or notification in the case of minors. Laws protecting women from unsafe abortion clinics and from abortion practitioners who are not physicians would be overridden. Restrictions on partial-birth and other late-term abortions would be eliminated. FOCA would knock down laws protecting the conscience rights of nurses, doctors, and hospitals with moral objections to abortion, and force taxpayers to fund abortions throughout the United States.

We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot tolerate an even greater loss of innocent human lives. …

More than forty bishops contributed to the discussion of the November 12 statement during the public sessions of the USCCB meeting November 11. Following are a few the bishops’ interventions.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, auxiliary of Chicago and chairman of the Committee on Canon Law:

I speak in strong support of Point 3 regarding the defense of the unborn child from the moment of conception.  In particular we need to be aware of the significant and adverse effects of the proposed Freedom of Choice Act, which the President-elect has indicated he would sign if the Congress passes it.  A devastating consequence for Catholic health care institutions and providers would be the fact that the Freedom of Choice Act in its present form would nullify all conscience laws allowing doctors, nurses or other state-licensed professionals and hospitals or other health-care institutions to object conscientiously to performing or participating in abortions.  If this is allowed to happen, the next step would likely be for federal law to require abortions to be performed by all hospitals, including our Catholic hospitals, which, of course, we cannot do.  This could necessitate discontinuing all obstetrical services at Catholic hospitals.  However, I suspect that the forces of abortion would further seek to require health care institutions to provide abortion services.  If that were to happen we would need to consider taking the drastic step of closing our Catholic hospitals entirely.  It would not be sufficient simply to withdraw Catholic sponsorship or sell our hospitals to someone else who would provide abortion services, since giving permission to sell or alienate Catholic hospitals to those who would perform abortions would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil.  I do not think that I am being alarmist in suggesting the need to consider taking such drastic steps.  I am saying that we need to be prepared to respond in a morally appropriate and responsible fashion in the face of increasingly militant and virulent threats to pre-born human life and the moral rights of conscience to protect such life.  Thank you.  [Applause]

Bishop Daniel Conlon, Steubenville, member of the Marriage and Family Life subcommittee:  Regardless of any particular legislation either at the federal level or the state level, my guess is that the change of administration will lead some people to think that there should be a cessation in efforts to halt abortions or the war on abortion that we are so committed to.  There will  be calls for a truce, it you will.  I think people need to understand that we are dealing here with an absolute, that there is nothing here that will allow for compromise.  Cardinal George, in your initial comments, in your Presidential address, you made a poignant connection between slavery and abortion.  Slavery was an issue that divided this country substantially for a very long time.  In fact, the adoption of a Constitution that brought the country into existence almost did not happen because of slavery, and the issue was put off.  It was put off until the point that a civil war came into being and, which again, almost destroyed the union, and resulted in the loss of tremendous life.  It was very violent, and very divisive and very painful.  But it was a matter of an absolute: you either had slavery or you didn’t have slavery.  And so it is with abortion.  And I  think with this particular point your statement needs to make it clear that this is not a matter of political compromise, it’s not a matter of finding some way of common ground.   It is a matter of an absolute moral issue of a human being whose life cannot be compromised, but must be protected.   [Applause]

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Philadelphia, chairman Pro-Life Activities, suggested quoting Pope John Paul’s address during his visit to St. Louis in 1999:

The Dred Scott decision and slavery has already been mentioned, and the Cardinal [George] referred to it in his presidential address.  I would like to simply read twelve lines or so, and ask if it might not be possible to insert this quotation from Pope John Paul II on his visit to the United States, precisely to St. Louis, when I was the archbishop, and the quotation which may possibly be able--because the phrases are quite—they’re quite impressive.  If I may just read the twelve lines: 

“There are times of trial, tests of national character in the history of every country.  America has not been immune to them.  One such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis.  Here the famous Dred Scott case was heard.  And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings—people of African descent—outside the boundaries of the national community and of the Constitution’s protection.  After untold suffering and with enormous effort that situation has, at least in part, been reversed.  America faces a similar time of trial today.  Today the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings—the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped and others considered unuseful—to be outside the boundaries of legal protection.  Because of the seriousness of the issues involved and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences”.

Perhaps this could be referred to explicitly.  Thank you.

Bishop Joseph Martino, Scranton:  I just think we have to define this term “common good”.  I say that with great reluctance, because I do agree with Cardinal Egan and others who have said we need to make sure the document has the appropriate punch and not an excessive length.  But I think one of the sad aspects of this past election would be the activity of Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the so-called “Common Good”.  I think they really redefined that phrase “common good” into kind of a utopianism, a prosperity-oriented materialism, I think.  And I think that that’s not what we mean at all by “the common good”.  That has a precise meaning in the Church’s teachings and in the Compendium of the Social Teachings of the Church.   So I just hope that, without lengthening this document, we do not let others think that “common good” is a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.  There’s much more to it than that.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Military Services: Just very simply to echo what Bishop Trautman said: that it be prophetic in the sense of inviting the man who will—those who will read this document to accept the right position such as Nathan did with King David.  That should certainly guarantee that you stay up all night.

Bishop Blasé Cupich, Rapid City, member Translation of Scripture Texts subcommittee: And just to piggy-back on what Archbishop Broglio said, I think it is important to be prophetic, but to keep in mind that a prophecy of denunciation quickly wears thin.  And what we need, it seems to me, is a prophecy of solidarity: solidarity with those that we speak who have no voice, but also solidarity with a community that we serve and a nation that we live in, that is in need of healing today.  And so it seems to me that we must act, and be perceived as acting, as caring pastors as well as faithful teachers.  And as we do this work with this document to see it as part of the ongoing contact with the new administration, so that whatever is done will help and not hinder the personal contacts that our Conference will have in the ongoing years with this new administration.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann. Kansas City (Kansas), member Task Force on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, Pro-Life Activities: Your Eminence, I think … it’s really a call to our Catholics in public life to integrity: integrity in terms of the way they live out their Catholic faith, and they can’t check their principles at the door of the legislature.  And I think we need to emphasize that integrity, and then also integrity in living their Catholic faith: that they cannot call themselves to be Catholic when they violate such a fundamental core belief of ours in terms of the dignity of the unborn.  And finally, I would just echo that, if we could make that summons and call to the entire Catholic community, at this point, to rally. I think that’s very important.

Bishop Robert Hermann, administrator, St. Louis:  Your Eminence, I just wanted to really encourage you to make this a very, very strong statement about what we really believe.  For this reason:  we have lost perhaps fifty times as many children in the last thirty-five years as we have lost soldiers in all the wars since the Revolution.  And that is a horrible, horrible thing to answer for.  And therefore I think any bishop here would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow to bring about the end of abortion.  Now if we’re willing to die tomorrow to bring about the end of abortion, then we should be willing to spend the rest of our lives dedicated to take all kinds of criticism, whatever it is, to stop this horrible genocide.  So, I know we’re giving you a tough assignment, but we know you can rise to the occasion.  So, I just want to encourage my brothers as they go back home not to be afraid to stand up. To see the gravity of this and not to be afraid to stand up in the pulpit  and to defend whatever it is that you write.  Thank you. [Applause]

A more complete account of the November USCCB meeting in Voices, Advent-Christmas 2008 - coming out soon.

STATEMENT ON THE PLANNED JULY 31ST 2006 CEREMONY, June 15, 2006, -- Diocese of Pittsburgh response to the July 31, 2006 invalid ritual of Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

PITTSBURGH – According to an organization called “Roman Catholic Womenpriests” a ceremony will take place on the rivers of Pittsburgh on July 31, 2006 that is represented to be an “ordination” to the priesthood. The following is issued out of concern for those who present themselves for such an invalid ritual, those who conduct it, and those who participate as witnesses since their actions will place them outside the Church. Click title for complete statement. ,Brochure, Bulletin Insert and Questions and Answers for Priests and Parish Leaders were also issued.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church -- On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World -- May 31, 2004 (released July 31, 2004)

Marking a Milestone - ...This year, Women for Faith & Family observes a milestone anniversary...by Helen Hull Hitchcock[Voices, Michaelmas 2004]

U.S. Bishops' Documents on Women, Laity, Family -- A Chronology -- A Chronological list [1992-98] of statements and materials on women, "women's issues" and/or families released, produced, and presented by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth, along with a partial list of other related documents or materials.

WFF Special Report - Vatican Conference on Women -- December 1996 -- by Helen Hull Hitchcock, Spring 1997 Voices

Statement on Feminism, Language, Liturgy 1989 (updated 1995)

Statement on Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 1994 -- (“Confusion over these matters  was made more public - and the controversy prolonged - by the  conflict which developed in the discussions surrounding the U.S.  bishops' nine-year attempt to write a pastoral letter on "women's  concerns". Some influential theologians, liturgical experts  - and even a few bishops - publicly added their voices in support  of those feminist movements (such as the "Women's Ordination  Conference") who demanded ordination of women as a matter  of "justice" for women.”)

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

"Follow the way of love", Voices Online Summer 1993: Volume VII, No. 3 -- (pdf file) A new pastoral follows old model of undead women's pastoral -- a Special Report by Helen Hull Hitchcock -- go to pages 8-11.

Voices Online Edition, Fall 1992 & Winter 1993, Vol VII, No. 4 and VIII, No. 1 -- , (pdf file), includes:

The Bishops and the Pastoral... What They Said -- and What's Next -- Vol. VII, No. 2-3, August 1992, pages 1,2

Bishop's Discussion on the Third Draft of "Called to be One in Christ Jesus - -- Vol. VII, No. 2-3, August 1992, pages 6-20

Statement on Draft Women’s Pastoral, “Called to be One in Christ Jesus” (June 1992), (pdf file), Women for Faith & Family and Consortium Perfectae Caritatis, go to pages 3-5.

Commentary on "Called to be One in Christ Jesus" Third Draft of the "Pastoral Response to Women's Concerns" -- June 1992 -- Published by Women for Faith & Family

Third Draft of 'Women's Pastoral' Released, (pdf file) Voices Online Edition
April 1992: Volume VII, No. 1 -- report, go to pages 1 & 12

Vatican Critiques US Bishops' Pastoral on Women: Summary of Press Interviews (pdf file)Summer 1991, Vol VI, No 3 - go to pages 5, 6, 7

The Case of the "Undead" Pastoral, update on "One in Christ Jesus", (pdf file) by Helen Hull Hitchcock, go to pages 5-7 -- Fall 1990 - Winter 1991, Volume V, No. 4 - Vol. VI: No.1

WFF Sends Names to U.S. Bishops -- Fall 1990 - Winter 1991, Volume V, No. 4 - Vol. VI: No.1 pages 1,4

Commentary on the Draft Pastoral -- September 1, 1990 -- published by Women for Faith & Family

"One in Christ Jesus" -- WFF responds to bishops' revised pastoral - Spring 1990 -- Vol V, No. 2 page 1, 3

Statement on Feminism, Language, Liturgy 1989 (updated 1995)

PMR returned to committee - Vol IV, No. 1, Winter 1989, page 1

Bishop Issues Directive on "Altar Girls" -- Spring 1989, Vol. IV, No. 2, page 6

Women's Groups Issue Statement on Feminism, Language, Liturgy --Spring 1989, Vol. IV, No. 2, page 1

On the Dignity and Vocation of Women... Holy Father Responds to Concerns of ALL Women -- Fall 1988, Vol. III, No. 3, pages 1, 8

On Rejecting First Drafts -- Fall 1988, Vol. III, No. 3, page 3

Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women)

Bishops' "Pastoral Response" to women issued. "Partners in the Mystery of Redemption" Ambiguous, defective. -- Spring 1988, Vol. III., No. 1. page 3.(pdf file)

Testimony to Synod on the Laity (Vatican) - 1987  (also sent to US bishops)
Based on Letters Received by Women for Faith & Family from October, 1984 to July, 1987 --  Since October, 1984, when the circulation of the Affirmation for Catholic Women began, several thousand letters from women have been received by Women for Faith and Family. A very high percentage of these letters include personal testimony about the meaning of the Catholic faith in their lives, about the current atmosphere of confusion within the Church, and how this affects them as individuals, and how it affects their families. ...

Presentation by Women for Faith & Family to the Bishops’ Commission on the Pastoral Letter for Women, O’Hare Hilton, Chicago, August 24, 1985 

From “About WFF” page:
Beginnings
In September 1984, six St. Louis women gathered around a dining room table to discuss their concern that the US bishops, who had announced their intention to write a pastoral letter on the subject of "women's concerns", might not receive an accurate picture of Catholic women. The women were concerned about the impression given in the media that most Catholic women feel "alienated" from the Church, and dissent from Church teachings on issues ranging from abortion to ordination. They were aware that feminist theology had influenced many women and Catholic leaders. They wanted to do something positive to overcome this distorted image of Catholic women.... Etc...


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