RGS Articles

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

DSWP: Empowering battered women

Every day after work, Bing leaves the office with a heavy heart, hating every step that brings her closer to home. She's eager to be with her children, but at the same time dreads seeing her husband. And his mistress, whom he has brought home to live with them.

Enduring the presence of the other woman is not the most painful part for Bing, 42. What breaks her heart is seeing how the situation affects her children.

Bing has been suffering from abuse from her husband. But no matter how many times she's been physically, verbally and emotionally abused, she can't leave. Even if she's been made into a punching bag a number of times, her injuries sometimes serious enough to land her in hospital, she stays. She helped pay for the townhouse, and her salary, if they left, won't be enough to pay the rent and support her four children, three of whom are in high school. Her husband should leave, not them. So she waits. But he won't budge.

Bing's case, while strange to other people, does not confound social workers. Hers is just one of the bizarre stories of women suffering in the hands of their husbands, lovers and boyfriends. There are millions of abused women, as statistics show.

In 2003, a nationwide survey revealed that 2.16 million of Filipino women have at one time or another been victims of violence. One out of 10 women admitted having experienced physical abuse. And sixty-four percent of violence against women is done at home.

Two years after the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children (Anti-VAWC) Act of 2004 (RA 9262)--a law protecting women and children from abuse--was passed, abuse of women in intimate relations remains an ugly reality. Data gathered by the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) showed that every year, the government spends P6 billion to help battered wives and abused women. And majority of the abusers, a high 93.56 percent, are the victims' husbands, live-in partners, boyfriends – in short, their intimate partners.

It is telling that 2.8 million Filipino men admitted having physically hurt someone. Of those surveyed, 39 percent said the victims were their wives, while 15 percent said the victims were their live-in partners.

Statistics culled from the Women's Crisis Center (WCC) also revealed that seven out of 10 rape survivors were abused by men they knew, while one out of three incest victims was raped by her father. Half of the victims were abused when they were below 11 years old, and 60 percent of them said their father also abused their mother. Meanwhile, 60 percent of battered wives also experienced marital rape, according to the WCC.

Slapped, punched

Men prefer slapping or punching their victims as a survey showed that 96.7 percent of victims were abused this way. Kicking is the third "favorite" mode of hurting women, 86.2 percent, followed by hair-pulling, 73.35 percent, strangling, 40 percent, pouring boiling water, 30 percent, stabbing and shooting. Pregnancy does not exempt women from physical violence, since many are also mauled even if they're heavy with child. Beth Angsioco, DSWP chairperson and Aksyon Sambayanan secretary general, said that most cases of abuse of women by their intimate partners go unreported because victims are either ashamed to let it out, or they don't know where to seek help. Many, like Bing, believe that the situation won't change even if they did report to authorities.

However, DSWP believes that with the Anti-VAWC law in effect, if it is properly implemented and understood by women, victims of violence against women may be better protected from abusive partners. The law is progressive since it covers relationships outside of marriage such as dating, live-in, and even lesbian relationships. The law also makes available to the victims a host of reliefs and services through Protection Orders (POs).

To better inform women of their rights and where to seek help in case their partners turn abusive, the DSWP, in coordination with various women's groups, recently launched a book entitled End-VAW (End Violence Against Women), a complete handbook on the Anti-VAWC law. Through this publication, Angsioco hopes that women would be emboldened to seek help, knowing that there are centers and groups to whom they can run to in times of need.

"Many women are trapped in abusive relationships because of the social pressure on them to keep the family together at all cost. Many are scared that they will not be able to provide for their children, or are too ashamed to come out as victims of domestic violence. What suffering women should realize is that there is a way out, that they need not endure physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuses because there is a law that protects them from violence, a law that can shield them from abusive husbands or lovers. Women should realize that they have rights," Angsioco said.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Four Gods

Most political commentaries on the recent elections in the United States focused on the victory of the liberal Democrats over the conservative Republicans. But my American friends, most of whom are, well, liberals and Democrats, have been pointing out that you can be a conservative Democrat (which many of the winners were) as well as a (sort of) liberal Republican. Which is why I thought readers might be interested in the results of a recent survey by Baylor University in Texas, where an Institute of Religion has been conducting public opinion surveys for several years now.

Baylor, incidentally, is a Baptist university. The latest survey, released in September, focused on American concepts of God, which the social scientists found to relate to political views as well.

Big picture

Let's get a big picture first of the four concepts of God that came up in the surveys. As we run through the concepts, you might want to think of your own notions of God.

The researchers found that 31 percent of their respondents see God as an Authoritarian God, who influences global as well as personal events and is often angry. Not surprisingly, these are the ones who also tend to believe in the death penalty, who support the war in Iraq.

The ones who believe in an Authoritarian God are the biggest group, which might explain why George W. Bush got reelected in 2004 and why his policies on Iraq were so uncritically supported -- until recently.

The survey did find that 24 percent of respondents believe in a Distant God, someone who sets the laws of nature in motion but does not actively intervene in the world. Obviously such a God would not be angry or punishing.

The Distant God believers are about the same in number as those who believe in a Benevolent God, one who does intervene in our daily lives, but not in anger or in retribution. The Benevolent God believers accounted for 23 percent of respondents. As you might have guessed, the Distant God and Benevolent God believers are less likely to support the death penalty. People with higher incomes, and higher education also tend toward concepts of a Distant God and Benevolent God, which makes you wonder about how religion relates to the sense of control we have over our own lives and circumstances.

Votes and religion

I was constantly tuned to the US National Public Radio during the last election campaign and I could see new variations and configurations in the interactions between religion and politics. An example comes with the "conservatives" that Bush and the Republican Party had pinned their hopes on. Usually, the conservative agenda, which links to the notion of an Authoritarian God, is associated with support for the death penalty, American intervention in Iraq, opposition to abortion and gay marriages.

But fissures began to emerge in the recent elections, such as conservatives who were opposed to abortion but felt more compassion was needed for gays, including possible support for gay marriages. There were, too, conservative evangelical Christians who were beginning to wonder if their involvement in politics, and their acquiring power, was beginning to corrupt Christianity. Rick Warren, who was in the Philippines recently, is one of those conservative Christians who is talking more now about involvement in social issues.

There was more then to all this than the type of God that Americans believe in. The votes definitely related to broader concepts about how one translates one's religious values into political involvement. It's not surprising then that religious conservatives also speak out now for environmental conservation. A campaign initiated two or three years ago, "What Would Jesus Drive?" speculated that if Christ were here today, he wouldn't be driving a gas-guzzling Ford Expedition or one of the other SUVs. The campaign said he'd drive a smaller vehicle -- or take public transport and walk.


The Baylor study reminds us that there are many different types of beliefs in God, and in the supernatural. If similar studies were conducted in Asia, we'd find even more variations. Buddhism, for example, is basically non-theistic: It does talk about a creator God, or about a God intervening in people's lives. The buddhas are not gods; they were humans who have managed to break free from the cycles of reincarnation by cutting off all attachments to the material.

Now, at the level of popular culture, many Buddhists do pray to the buddhas much as Christians would to God, asking for help, so there we see some kind of an intervening God.

The Social Weather Stations has conducted surveys in the past on how Filipinos perceive their own religiosity and, as expected, many do see themselves as very religious. But I'd like to see surveys on specific beliefs and practices, including our perceptions of God, and how this might shape our behavior in non-religious spheres of life.

I suspect the majority of Filipinos believe in a somewhat distant but intervening God, literally a "tatay" [father] in the stereotyped sense. Natural disasters and personal misfortunes are often seen as "gaba," punishment from God, but we also tend to see our relationships with that God as negotiable. We bargain all the time, vowing to do several novenas or have ourselves nailed to the cross in Lent, on condition that a certain favor is granted. I'd be curious to see what we bargain for as well. From admittedly unscientific eavesdropping on people's conversations, I've heard it all, from patients asking to be healed from a serious illness, to students asking to pass a particularly difficult subject, to sex workers praying for more customers.

We are monotheistic, but we also believe in all-powerful saints. I suspect the belief in the Trinity allows us to believe in an authoritarian distant God the Father, and a more intervening benevolent God the Son, including the tiny but terrible Santo Niño, or Holy Child.

Then, too, there's the Virgin Mary and a plethora of saints, who act as intercessors or go-betweens. Our patriarchal society might be reflected in our beliefs in an Authoritarian God, but we are, too, a matricentric society where women can be very powerful, and that is reflected in our Mama Mary complex.

And we haven't even gone into Filipino animist beliefs that see the human world as constantly interacting with other worlds of supernatural and preternatural spirits, benevolent and malevolent.

Perhaps ultimately, we need to understand not so much how the Filipino looks at God as how we interpret morality, what is right and what is "kasalanan" ("sin" or wrong-doing). Maybe the tension isn't so much between an Authoritarian and Benevolent God than between ideas of "personal" and "social" sin. When we see sin mainly in terms of having missed Mass, or using the contraceptive pill, then we lose sight of the need to address social sin, such as cheating in elections, stealing through corruption, failing to provide decent social services for fellow Filipinos.

By Dr. Michael L. Tan. Published on Page A15 of the November 15, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Roman Inquisition

For a thousand years the Catholic Church has been a refuge for gay men. Now Pope Benedict hopes to "purify" his priesthood.

JoAnn Wypijewski
November/December 2005 Issue

Unlike some Catholics of a certain age, who moan that the sex abuse scandal that burst onto the front pages almost four years ago shattered their faith in the presumed purity of priests, I didn't grow up with the notion of priests as saints. Those in my acquaintance ate too much, smoked like stacks, bet on horses, and earned our allegiance, or didn't, by the quality of their hearts. Saints, in any case, were dead, and I was vaguely aware of my own childish hubris in aspiring to be one. It was much later that I realized many of the saints weren't even saints, in the colloquial sense of the word.

As if to underscore that fact, in the midst of the scandal, in 2002 Pope John Paul II canonized a man who not only wrestled with devils, flagellated himself to bleeding, fasted to the point of collapse, and bore the stigmata but was also accused of having had sexual dalliances with women and of pomading his hair, perfuming his body, and wearing makeup. The Vatican once forbade Padre Pio,or Saint Pio da Pietrelcina as he is now called, from teaching teenage boys and hearing the confessions of women. The ladies had taken to fighting each other for the chance to repent their sins before this voluptuary of suffering. He took money in the confessional, and Rome was so unsettled by the extravagance of his mysticism and his
cult that twice it put him under investigation. His own order, the Capuchins, bugged his cell after accusations arose that he brought women there. He died, in 1968, addicted to Valium and downers.

As Michael Bronski noted in a fascinating Boston Phoenix column unearthing this at the time of the canonization, saints are made as object lessons, and by elevating Pio, a doctrinal conservative, in a period of internal upheaval, the pope surely reinforced the ancient Catholicism of miracle, mystery, and authority. And yet,there is something oddly modern about it all, too, this example of colossal frailty, of ambiguity at the edge of hysteria and holiness. Not long before, the Vatican had insisted on modifications in the American bishops' "zero-tolerance" policy toward accused priests, saying its stipulation to remove permanently from ministry anyone with a single accusation of sex with a minor, whatever the circumstances and however long ago, did not adequately allow for due process and forgiveness.

Perhaps unwittingly, the pope expressed something as significant by offering the pancaked visage of Saint Pio for contemplation in a period of puffed-up righteousness, reminding Catholics, among them the legion of bishops looking to fix blame everywhere but in their own offices, that our embarrassment, our shame, is us.

Three years on, the Vatican has piled embarrassment on embarrassment,settling the debate initiated then between liberal reformers and reactionary prelates, as it was bound to, in favor of the reactionaries. Reformers had called for democracy,accountability, transparency. Some challenged celibacy,some suggesting that if only priests and bishops had been married with children, the abuse, or at least the silence around it, would not have occurred. That last argument, nonsense given the prevalence of family violence, gave backhanded assent to the reactionaries' simpler verdict on the scandal: the homosexuals did it. JPII encouraged that line of reasoning, if such it can be called, by ordering seminaries to reject candidates with "obvious signs of deviations," a stipulation that would have disqualified Pio the moment he first raised the whip against himself.

Pope Benedict XVI has now systematized it. Church investigators are scrutinizing America's 229 seminaries for "evidence of homosexuality," "signs of particular friendships," and all-around adherence to the Vatican's official teaching of homophobia. When the investigation was revealed in August, its overseer, Edwin O'Brien, who is also archbishop for the U.S. military, said the seminary is no place
for queers, however virginal or scrupulously chaste.

The shoe waiting to drop is a purge of gay priests, men whose sexuality Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia once declared "a moral evil." It's all part of what Benedict, with Teutonic economy, described as "purifying" the church. Put another way, by a gay priest in New York who asked to be nameless, "Everyone fears the knock at the door in the middle of the night."

Reformers and the press are appalled by the church's gay panic. They point out, rightly, that there is no statistical correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia, that gay priests are no more likely to flout celibacy than straight ones, and that, while numbers are mushy, many therapists concur that in the universe of priestly victims the vast majority are girls and women. Half the membership of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, for example, are women. The group's president, David Clohessy, was astounded that the New York Times, in breaking news of the seminary investigation, reported without qualification the American bishops' calculation that "about 80 percent of the young people victimized by priests were boys." Clohessy distrusts everything about the bishops' numbers and attributes the 80 percent figure to a combination of homophobia and sexism: the greater perceived affront of male-on-male groping which influenced who made noise, who was taken seriously, whose record got kept, who threatened to call a lawyer. But if the numbers are inflated, maybe they appear so believable and are reported so unthinkingly because of all those salacious stories of priests and "boys" (ages 6, 16, 21, the word became elastic) that, particularly in Boston, consumed newspapers, nabbed journalistic prizes, and passed off one-sided accounts—even preposterous "memories"—as ultimate truths, and made the careers of so many good liberal Catholic journalists and prosecutors who were remarkably uncurious about hetero offenses but probably couldn't imagine themselves accessories to an antigay witch-hunt.

The reactionary churchmen aren't responding simply, or even mainly, to the press, though, or to the scandal. This isn't just a pedestrian matter of blame-shifting, as critics contend; it is the gasp of an institution caught in an operatic contradiction. For despite its attempts to organize patriarchy and enforce sexual, particularly same-sexual, shame, the Catholic Church has had, in the form of its priesthood, what today would be called a gay culture for about 1,000 years. Although estimates suggest 20 to 50 percent of American priests are gay (a figure that was probably higher before the Stonewall Riot of 1969 and the birth of the modern gay movement),whether individuals are homo or hetero is secondary.

Here is an institution for centuries removed from the everyday construction of straight masculinity: a community of men, living together, freed from admonitions to marry and multiply, engaged in ritual and performance, praising gentleness, wearing dresses, and bound together in worship of a naked man on a cross. Body and blood, a
heady mixture of rapture and camp, at once repressive and sensual, dependent, like the army, on structures of submission and domination, only here dedicated to a spiritual doctrine of love—that culture is now exposed and under attack.

For a long time, heterosexuals didn't think about this much, because no one in the straight world had a clue about the way gay people hid. Even the most flamboyant priest was beyond sexuality. It was all part of the old world, and the church ladies loved the gay priests, the way they loved Liberace, because they were at an angle to the gender universe.

No one who grew up in the church pre-Stonewall could miss the way the priest who organized the talent shows and liturgical pageants, decorated the church, drank martinis, and dressed just so dazzled the women, and if in private he rued the deception of it, we wouldn't have guessed. It wasn't all deception, of course, but a complex bargain in which renegades from straight sex roles got a measure of authenticity, safety, certainly prestige, though not without sacrificing their most intimate selves in loyalty to policies that declared them deviant, dangerous, sick.

With gay liberation came not just an uncloseting of sex but of identity, and eventually the straight world started to recognize all the little markers. For straight men, especially in institutions like the church, the homosocial rituals were suddenly, by association, a little threatening: Might I be queer, too?

The reactionaries' latest "solution" to this crisis, this embarrassment, has no more chance of success now than it did a generation ago, when John Paul II cracked down on rebellious theologians, and some cardinals tried to clear the seminaries of queers.

The problem for the reactionaries is that they love the church culture of the marvelous but hate the identity that has largely sustained it. Purge that identity, and all that's left are rules, authority, an army. Abandon the regimen of authority and shame, and it's hardly a church at all, at least in the traditional sense. It's a fine mess. Still, even in disdain, the reactionaries' appreciation of the challenge presented by gay liberation is far more acute than that of reformers, who seem mostly concerned that homophobia is vaguely unhip. Though it has been somewhat obscured by gay-cliché diversions like Queer Eye and debates over gay marriage,that liberationist challenge, at its core, asserts that sexuality is central to human life, not some "don't tell the children" shameful thing, not something dependent on marriage and a social need to reproduce the workforce or boost the corps of believers. It asserts that sexuality is born with us and is no one's property but the original owner's; that desire, pleasure, love, may be complicated, almost certainly will be, but people really do have the right to the pursuit of such happiness; that they also have the right to pursue celibacy, chastity, abnegation, but, like the rest, those are sexual choices; and,among believers, that all of it is God's creation and nothing God made can be bad, even if it often goes bad. Utopians had always believed such things, along with mavericks, hippies, and some feminists. But with Stonewall "the genie was out of the bottle," as writer Andrew Kopkind liked to say. For more than 30 years, the ethos of sexual freedom has been working its way through mainstream culture, moving forward, then thrown back, diverted by commerce or expedience from its essentially moral root, surviving but not without a lot of dislocation. Revolution of the body is a lot easier than revolution of the mind, and for all the claims to liberation—and the relentless advertising of sex—we are still groping in the dark, still in a period of transition set off in the 1960s and '70s.

It's totally logical, by their lights, that the guardians of an old,punishing morality should fall back on punishment. The harder question is, Where is a reborn morality that doesn't need retribution, that courts embarrassment and risks freedom with only a radical love to win?

This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress (c) 2005 The Foundation for National Progress

Posted by Karol

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights

October 9, 2006, New York Times

J. Jeffrey Heck, a lawyer in Mansfield, Ohio, usually sits on management’s side of the table. “The only employee cases I take are those that poke my buttons,” he said. “And this one really did.”

His client was a middle-aged novice training to become a nun in a Roman Catholic religious order in Toledo. She said she had been dismissed by the order after she became seriously ill — including a diagnosis of breast cancer.

In her complaint, the novice, Mary Rosati, said she had visited her doctor with her immediate supervisor and the mother superior. After the doctor explained her treatment options for breast cancer, the complaint continued, the mother superior announced: “We will have to let her go. I don’t think we can take care of her.”

Some months later Ms. Rosati was told that the mother superior and the order’s governing council had decided to dismiss her after concluding that “she was not called to our way of life,” according to the complaint. Along with her occupation and her home, she lost her health insurance, Mr. Heck said. Ms. Rosati, who still lacks health insurance but whose cancer is in remission, said she preferred not to discuss her experience because of her continuing love for the church.

In court filings, lawyers for the diocese denied her account of these events. If Ms. Rosati had worked for a business or almost any secular employer, she might have prevailed under the protections of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Instead, her complaint was dismissed in December 2002 by Judge James G. Carr of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, who decided that the order’s decision to dismiss her “was an ecclesiastical decision” that was “beyond the reach of the court” because “the First Amendment requires churches to be free from government interference in matters of church governance and administration.”

Legislators and regulators are not the only people in government who have drafted special rules for religious organizations. Judges, too, have carved out or preserved safe havens that shield religious employers of all faiths from most employee lawsuits, from laws protecting pensions and providing unemployment benefits, and from laws that give employees the right to form unions to negotiate with their employers.

Some of these exemptions are rooted in long traditions, while others have grown from court decisions over the last 15 years. Together, they are expanding the ability of religious organizations — especially religious schools — to manage their affairs with less interference from the government and their own employees.

The most sweeping of these judicial protections, and the one that confronted the novice nun in Toledo, is called the ministerial exception. Judges have been applying this exception, sometimes called the church autonomy doctrine, to religious employment disputes for more than 100 years.

As a rule, state and federal judges will handle any lawsuit that is filed in the right place in an appropriate, timely manner. But judges will almost never agree to hear a controversy that would require them to delve into the doctrines, governance, discipline or hiring preferences of any religious faith. Citing the protections of the First Amendment, they have ruled with great consistency that congregations cannot fully express their faith and exercise their religious freedom unless they are free to select their own spiritual leaders without any interference from government agencies or second-guessing by the courts.

To do otherwise would be an intolerable government intrusion into employment relationships that courts have called “the lifeblood” of religious life and the bedrock of religious liberty, explained Edward R. McNicholas, co-chairman of the national religious institutions practice in the Washington, D.C., office of Sidley Austin, a law firm with some of the country’s largest religious organizations among its clients.

Judges have routinely invoked the ministerial exception to dismiss lawsuits against religious employers by rabbis, ministers, cantors, nuns and priests — those “whose ministry is a core expression of religious belief for that congregation,” as Mr. McNicholas put it.

But judges also have applied the exception to dismiss cases filed by the press secretary at a Roman Catholic church, a writer for The Christian Science Monitor, administrators at religious colleges, the disgruntled beneficiaries of a Lutheran pension fund, the overseer of the kosher kitchen at a Jewish nursing home and a co-founder of Focus on the Family, run by the conservative religious leader James C. Dobson. Court files show that some of these people were surprised to learn that their work had been considered a “core expression of religious belief” by their employer.

Religious employers have long been shielded from all complaints of religious discrimination by an exemption that was built into the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and expanded in 1972. That historic exemption allows them to give preference in hiring to candidates who share their faith. In recent years, some judges have also refused to interfere when religious groups have dismissed lesbians, unwed mothers and adulterous couples, even if they profess the same faith, because they have violated their employers’ religious codes.

A federal court decision has given religious broadcasters an exemption from some of the fair-hiring requirements of the Federal Communications Commission, even when they are hiring secretaries and receptionists. Two other decisions, one in federal court affecting a Mormon church and the other in a state court of appeals case involving a Roman Catholic nursing home, affirmed the right of religious employers to dismiss employees whose faith changed after they were hired.

“These are very difficult cases because they pull at some very fundamental heartstrings,” said Steven C. Sheinberg, a lawyer at Outten & Golden, specializing in employment law. “There’s our belief that employees should be free of discrimination in their work, versus our belief that religious organizations should be free to hire people who best help them fulfill their religious mission, without the intrusion of government.”

Employees at religious institutions face other risks as well, thanks to pension law exemptions granted by Congress and upheld by the courts. Religious employers are exempt from Erisa, the federal pension law that establishes disclosure requirements and conflict-of-interest restrictions for employee pension plans. That exemption has given rise to several cases in which workers at religious hospitals found that their pensions had vanished because of practices that would not have been allowed under Erisa’s rules.

A related exemption frees religious employers from participating in the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government-run insurance program that provides a safety net for corporate pension plans. And some significant court decisions in labor disputes in the last several years have made it easier for religious schools and colleges to resist collective bargaining efforts.

But for Mr. Heck, the question of whether these workplace exemptions are fair to religious employees was crystallized by the case of Ms. Rosati, the novice nun in Toledo.

He said the doctor involved in her case had been prepared to testify under oath on Ms. Rosati’s behalf. The doctor “had quite a vivid memory about these events.” In fact, Mr. Heck said, the doctor had cautioned the nuns who accompanied Ms. Rosati that it would be virtually impossible for the ailing novice to get affordable insurance anywhere else if she were dropped from the diocesan health.Read more...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Crimen Sollicitationis

VATICAN CITY, Oct 2 (Reuters) - The Vatican on Monday threw its full support behind British bishops who attacked a BBC documentary alleging there had been a cover-up of child sexual abuse under a system Pope Benedict enforced in his previous job.Roman Catholic bishops from England and Wales condemned the documentary, which was aired on Sunday night, as "false and misleading". The Vatican said it would have no comment of its own for the time being but said it fully endorsed a sternly worded statement by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham written on behalf of the British bishops.

Nichols, chair of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, said the BBC should be "ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict XVI". The BBC defended the documentary, made by the flagship current affairs programme "Panorama", which examined what it described as a secret document written in 1962 that set out a procedure for dealing with child sex abuse within the Catholic Church.

The document, called "Crimen Sollicitationis", imposes an oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation and any witness. Breaking that oath would result in excommunication, the BBC said.

"The procedure was intended to protect a priest's reputation until the Church had investigated, but in practice it can offer a blueprint for cover-up," the documentary said.

"The man in charge of enforcing it for 20 years was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the man made Pope last year," reporter Colm O'Gorman said in the programme "Sex Crimes and the Vatican". Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that enforces doctrine, from 1981 until his election as Pope in April 2005.

DEFENCE OF POPE The British bishops said the original 1962 document was concerned not directly with child abuse but with the abuse of the confessional by a priest to silence his victim.

The 1962 document was revised in 2001 to deal more specifically with sexual abuse cases but still remained secret.

The bishops flatly rejected the attack on the current Pope.
"Since 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger, when head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took many steps to apply the law of the Church to allegations and offences of child abuse with absolute thoroughness and scruple," Nichols said.His statement said there were two strands to the documentary, one highlighting cases of child abuse by priests, a crime he said the Catholic Church dealt with seriously, carefully and with transparency, the other attacking the Pope.

"This aspect of the programme is false and entirely misleading. It is false because it misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope," he said.The document first surfaced publicly in 2003, when it was widely reported in the U.S. media, and was used by lawyers for alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in law suits against some American dioceses.

The U.S. scandal, in which priests known to have abused minors were transferred from parish to parish instead of being sacked, was centred in Boston. It led to the resignation of the city's archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, in December 2002.The BBC defended its documentary.

"The protection of children is clearly an issue of the strongest public interest," it said in a statement. "The BBC stands by the 'Panorama' programme, and invites viewers to make up their own minds."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Apocalypse Now

Scientist's plea for Christian environmentalism
by Edward O. Wilson
The New Republic | Post date: 08.28.06 |Issue date: 09.04.06

The following is a letter from the eminent Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, winner of the National Medal of Science and two Pulitzer Prizes, to an imagined Southern Baptist pastor--and the larger evangelical community.

Dear Pastor,
We have not met, yet I feel I know you well enough to call you a friend. First of all, we grew up in the same faith. As a boy, I, too, answered the altar call; I went under the water. Although I no longer belong to that faith, I am confident that, if we met and spoke privately of our deepest beliefs, it would be in a spirit of mutual respect and goodwill. I know we share many precepts of moral behavior. Perhaps it also matters that we are both Americans and, insofar as it might still affect civility and good manners, we are both Southerners.

I write to you now for your counsel and help. Of course, in doing so, I see no way to avoid the fundamental differences in our worldviews. You are a strict interpreter of Christian Holy Scripture; I am a secular humanist. You believe that each person's soul is immortal, making this planet a waystation to a second, eternal life; I think heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves, on this planet. For you, the belief in God made flesh to save mankind; for me, the belief in Promethean fire seized to set men free. You have found your final truth; I am still searching. You may be wrong; I may be wrong. We both may be partly right.
Do these differences in worldview separate us in all things? They do not. You and I and every other human being strive for the same imperatives of security, freedom of choice, personal dignity, and a cause to believe in that is larger than ourselves. Let us see, then, if we can meet on the near side of metaphysics in order to deal with the real world we share. You have the power to help solve a great problem about which I care deeply. I hope you have the same concern. I suggest that we set aside our differences in order to save the Creation. The defense of living nature is a universal value. It doesn't rise from, nor does it promote, any religious or ideological dogma. Rather, it serves without discrimination the interests of all humanity. Pastor, we need your help. The Creation--living nature--is in deep trouble.

Scientists estimate that, if habitat-conversion and other destructive human activities continue at their present rates, half the species of plants and animals on earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the century. The ongoing extinction rate is calculated in the most conservative estimates to be about 100 times above that prevailing before humans appeared on earth, and it is expected to rise to at least 1,000 times greater (or more) in the next few decades. If this rise continues unabated, the cost to humanity--in wealth, environmental security, and quality of life--will be catastrophic.
Surely we can agree that each species, however inconspicuous and humble it may seem to us at this moment, is a masterpiece of biology and well worth saving. Each species possesses a unique combination of genetic traits that fits it more or less precisely to a particular part of the environment. Prudence alone dictates that we act quickly to prevent the extinction of species and, with it, the pauperization of earth's ecosystems.

With all the troubles that humanity faces, why should we care about the condition of living nature? Homo sapiens is a species confined to an extremely small niche. True, our minds soar out to the edges of the universe and contract inward to subatomic particles--the two extremes encompassing 30 powers of ten in space. In this respect, our intellects are godlike. But, let's face it, our bodies stay trapped inside a proportionately microscopic envelope of physical constraints. Earth provides a self-regulating bubble that sustains us indefinitely without any thought or contrivance of our own. This protective shield is the biosphere, the totality of life, creator of all air, cleanser of all water, manager of all soil--but is itself a fragile membrane that barely clings to the face of the planet. We depend upon its razor-thin health for every moment of our lives. We belong in the biosphere, we were born here as species, we are closely suited to its exacting conditions--and not all conditions, either, but just those in a few of the climatic regimes that exist upon some of the land. Environmental damage can be defined as any change that alters our surroundings in a direction contrary to humanity's inborn physical and emotional needs. We must be careful with the environment upon which our lives ultimately depend.

In destroying the biosphere, we are destroying unimaginably vast sources of scientific information and biological wealth. Opportunity costs, which will be better understood by our descendants than by ourselves, will be staggering. Gone forever will be undiscovered medicines, crops, timber, fibers, soil-restoring vegetation, petroleum substitutes, and other products and amenities. Critics of environmentalism forget, if they ever knew, how the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar provided the alkaloids that cure most cases of Hodgkin's disease and acute childhood leukemia; how a substance from an obscure Norwegian fungus made possible the organ transplant industry; how a chemical from the saliva of leeches yielded a solvent that prevents blood clots during and after surgery; and so on through the pharmacopoeia that has stretched from the herbal medicines of Stone Age shamans to the magic-bullet cures of present-day biomedical science.

These are just a few examples of what could be lost if Homo sapiens pursue our current course of environmental destruction. Earth is a laboratory wherein nature--God, if you prefer, pastor--has laid before us the results of countless experiments. We damage her at our own peril.

You may well ask at this point, Why me? Simply because religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today, and especially in the United States. If religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem might soon be solved.

It may seem far-fetched for a secular scientist to propose an alliance between science and religion. But the fact is that environmental activists cannot succeed without you and your followers as allies. The political process in American democracy, with rare exceptions, does not start at the top and work its way down to the voting masses. It proceeds in the opposite direction. Political leaders are compelled to calculate as precisely as they can what it will take to win the next election. The United States is an intensely religious nation. It is overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian, with a powerful undercurrent of evangelism. We secularists must face reality. The National Association of Evangelicals has 30 million members; the three leading American humanist organizations combined have, at best, a few thousand. Those who, for religious reasons, believe in saving the Creation, have the strength to do so through the political process; acting alone, secular environmentalists do not. An alliance between science and religion, forged in an atmosphere of mutual respect, may be the only way to protect life on earth, including, in the end, our own.

Yes, the gulf separating our worldviews is wide. The Abrahamic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--believe that the universe was constructed to be relevant to humanity. The discoveries of science, in unintended opposition, have reduced earth to an infinitesimal speck within an immensity of space unrelated to human destiny. The Abrahamic religions envisage a supreme ruler who, while existing outside the material universe, nevertheless oversees an agenda for each and every one of our immortal souls. Science can find no evidence of an agenda other than that fashioned by the complex interaction of genes and environment within parallel evolving cultures. Religious creation stories have a divinely engineered beginning and a divinely ordained ending. According to science, in contrast, humans descended from apish ancestors; our origin was basically no different from that of other animals, played out over geological time through a tortuous route of mutation and environmentally driven natural selection. In addition, all mainstream religious belief, whether fundamentalist or liberal, is predicated upon the assumption that humanity is not alone, and we are here for a life and purpose beyond our earthly existence. Science says that, as far as verifiable evidence tells, we are alone, and what significance we have is therefore of our own making. This is the heart of the agonizing conflict between science and religion that has persisted for the past 500 years.
I do not see how the difference in worldview between these two great productions of human striving can be closed. But, for the purposes of saving the Creation, I am not sure that it needs to be. To make the point in good gospel manner, let me tell the story of a young man, newly trained for the ministry and so fixed in his Christian faith that he referred all questions of morality to readings from the Bible. When he visited the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil, he saw the manifest hand of God, and in his notebook he wrote, "It is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind." That was Charles Darwin in 1832, early into the voyage of the HMS Beagle, before he had given any thought to evolution. And here is Darwin, concluding On the Origin of Species in 1859, having first abandoned Christian dogma and then, with his newfound intellectual freedom, formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." Darwin's reverence for life remained the same as he crossed the seismic divide that separated his religious phase and his scientific one. And so it can be for the divide that, today, separates mainstream religion and scientific humanism. And that separates you and me.

Indeed, despite all that divides science from religion, there is good reason to hope that an alliance on environmental issues is possible. The spiritual reach of evangelical Christianity is nowadays increasingly extended to the environment. While the Old Testament God commands humanity to take dominion over the earth, the decree is not (as one evangelical leader recently affirmed) an excuse to trash the planet. The dominant theme in scripture as interpreted by many evangelicals is instead stewardship. Organizations like the Green Cross and the Evangelical Environmental Network (the latter a coalition of evangelical Christian agencies and institutions) are expanding their magisterium to include conservation--in religious terms, protection of the living Creation.

This evangelical interest in the environment is part of a worldwide trend among religions. In the United States, the umbrella National Religious Partnership for the Environment works with evangelical groups and other prominent organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches of Christ, and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. In 2001, the Archbishop of Canterbury urged that "it may not be time to build an Ark like Noah, but it is high time to take better care of God's creation." Three years earlier, Bartholomew I, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, had gone further: "For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation ... these are sins." He and Pope John Paul II later issued a "Common Declaration" that "God has not abandoned the world. It is His will that His Design and our hope for it will be realized through our co-operation in restoring its original harmony. In our own time we are witnessing a growth of an ecological awareness which needs to be encouraged, so that it will lead to practical programs and initiatives." Unfortunately, a corresponding magnitude of engagement has not yet occurred in Islam or the Eastern religions.

Every great religion offers mercy and charity to the poor. The poor of the world, of whom nearly a billion exist in the "poverty trap" of absolute destitution, are concentrated in the developing countries--the home of 80 percent of the world's population and most of Earth's biodiversity. The solution to the problems of both depends on the recognition that each depends on the other. The desperately poor have little chance to improve their lives in a devastated environment. Conversely, natural environments, where most of the Creation hangs on, cannot survive the press of land-hungry people who have nowhere else to go.

To be sure, some leaders of the religious right are reluctant to support biological conservation, an opposition sufficient to create a wedge within the evangelical movement. They may be partly afraid of paganism, by which worship of nature supplants worship of God. More realistically and importantly, opposition rises from the perceived association of environmental activism with the political left. For decades, conservatives have defined environmentalism as a movement bent on strangling the United States with regulations and bureaucratic power. This canard has dogged the U.S. environmental movement and helped keep it off the agenda of the past two presidential campaigns.

Finally, however, opinion may be changing. The mostly evangelical religious right, which, along with big business, has been the decisive source of power in the Republican Party, has begun to move care of the Creation back into the mainstream of conservative discourse. The opportunity exists to make the environment a universal concern and to render it politically nonpartisan.

Still, for all the positive signs, I remain puzzled that so many religious leaders have hesitated to make protection of the Creation an important part of their magisterium. Pastor, help me understand: Do they believe that human-centered ethics and preparation for the afterlife are the only things that matter? Do they believe that the Second Coming is imminent and that, therefore, the condition of the planet is of little consequence? These and other similar doctrines are not gospels of hope and compassion. They are gospels of cruelty and despair.
You and I are both humanists in the broadest sense: Human welfare is at the center of our thought. So forget our disagreements, I say, and let us meet on common ground. That might not be as difficult as it first seems. When you think about it, our metaphysical differences have remarkably little effect on the conduct of our separate lives. My guess is that you and I are about equally ethical, patriotic, and altruistic. We are products of a civilization that rose from both religion and the science-based Enlightenment. We would gladly serve on the same jury, fight the same wars, and sanctify human life with the same intensity. Surely we also share a love of the Creation--and an understanding that, however the tensions play out between our opposing worldviews, however science and religion wax and wane in the minds of men, there remains the earthborn yet transcendental obligation we are both morally bound to share.

Warmly and respectfully,
Edward O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson is the Pellegrino university professor emeritus at Harvard University. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth.

Shared by: Dr. Michael Tan
RGS Resource Speaker

Saturday, August 26, 2006

LEAP on Anti-Discrimination Law for LGBT

Position paper of LeAP! That was read at the Senate during the Public Hearing of the Anti-discrimination Bill (SB 1738) last Wednesday, August 09, 2006.


One lesbian was brought to a gynecologist by her mother and forced to undergo a medical examination, to check if she has all the female parts. Another was denied employment by a company that said it was hiring “females” – thus barring the entry of lesbians who are not seen by some as women. When a lesbian was hired, she was praised for her efficient work, and then informed that her appearance was not suitable for the company image. Another was removed from her church membership. Another was bypassed for promotion, and yet another resigned when the company refused to address and put a stop to harassment committed by her co-employees. By virtue of unbearable working conditions, she was constructively dismissed.

These are just some of the cases documented by the Lesbian Advocates Philippines (LeAP!) Inc. in its research Unmasked: Faces of Discrimination Against Lesbians in the Philippines published in December 2004.

These instances went unchecked because there was, and there still is, no law to protect lesbians against discrimination.

The Lesbian Advocates Philippines (LeAP!), Inc. calls for the immediate passage of Senate Bills No. 165, 1641, 1738 of Senators Loi Ejercito Estrada, Miriam Defensor Santiago, and Ramon Bong Revilla, Jr. respectively. The Anti-discrimination bill seeks to penalize various forms of discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in the Philippines.

Your Honors, we need an Anti-Discrimination Law. Because of the absence of such a measure, lesbians as a sector remain exposed to abuses that curtail basic rights that other citizens are entitled to. We want to exercise our basic human rights.

We want our right to have access to public service, we want equal employment opportunities, we want our right to education, our right to organize, our right to have access to medical and health services, and our right to have access to establishments and housing. Lesbians in the Philippines are still vulnerable to the dangers of forced medical or psychological examination, and to harassment by law enforcement officers.

To this day, there is no protection.

The State cannot simply allow discrimination to continue. It needs an Anti-Discrimination Law to bring about the much-needed protection to lesbians who suffer from and remain targets of discrimination.

Unfortunately, though it is responsible for the welfare of all its citizens, the failure of the State to safeguard these rights seems to indicate an implied condonation of the discrimination, making the State equally responsible as if it were the perpetrator.

Passing the Anti-Discrimination Law is the ultimate expression of support that the State can give to the members of its citizenry. It will testify to the State’s willingness to honor its commitments under international law. It will send out the clear message that discrimination will be taken seriously and that violators will be punished.

An Anti-Discrimination Law will affirm that in the Philippines, the rights of lesbians, as well as gays, bisexuals and transgenders are indeed, HUMAN RIGHTS.

Shared by: Ging Cristobal of the Lesbian Advocates Philippines (LeAP!), Inc.
RGS Kabandana Batch (June 2006)