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In Contraception Clash, Catholic Latinas Stray From Doctrine

Aired 2/15/12 on KPBS News.

In their push to reverse Obama's contraception rule, Catholic leaders aren't likely to find Latina allies.

— As the St. Jude Catholic Church's sanctuary reverberated with the tunes of a Spanish language band shortly before mass on Sunday evening, Amparo Gonzalez, 56, sat in a nearby pew, thumbing through this week’s church bulletin.

There, stamped on page two in English and Spanish, was a stern letter from San Diego’s bishop, Robert Brom, calling President Obama's recent rule requiring that religious institutions' health plans cover contraception unjust. He said it violated the collective Catholic conscience.

But after reading it, Gonzalez shrugged.

"I used them for nine years," she said, unapologetically. "I always took care of myself. I decided to have three children. And I didn’t say, 'whatever God would like to give me.' No, it’s my body, it’s my decision.”

In recent weeks, Catholic bishops across the country have turned to their congregations to pressure Obama to repeal his contraception rule. And since Latinos now make up about one-third of all Catholics in the U.S., they should be key players in that campaign.

But women like Gonzalez offer a stark truth, and explain why Latinos’ response has been tepid, almost nonexistent. Polling and data suggest that Gonzalez is among a vast majority of Latina women who have not only used contraception, but who do so even in spite of their churches’ stance on it.

“The reality is that an overwhelming majority of our community uses contraception,” said Kimberly Inez McGuire, a policy analyst at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which supports contraceptive options for women.

She cited findings from a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control that 97 percent of sexually active Latinas between the ages 15 and 44 had used some form of contraception. The institute’s analysis of the study’s data further found that 96 percent of Catholic Latinas had also used some form, she said.

“It may be that in many cases their church leaders are saying something different, but they feel very comfortable doing what they need to do to take care of their health,” Inez McGuire said.

To be sure, not all Catholic Latinas agree. Women like 39-year-old Dulce Maria Silva, a parishioner at El Cajon’s Our Lady of Grace Church, support strict adherence to Catholic doctrine.<

“Because my faith is very important, yes I’m a Latina, but first and foremost I am Catholic, so I do uphold the church’s teachings,” she said.

But if the Obama administration had any concerns that its clash with Catholics over contraception might alienate Latinos – who voted for Obama at a rate of nearly 70 percent in 2008 -- the statistics are likely to put them to rest.

Gary Segura, a Stanford political science professor and principal of the national polling firm Latino Decisions, said that by and large, when faced with conflicts between the conservative moral doctrine of their religion and their liberal political tendencies, Latinos tend to side with their political liberalism.

“Every poll that we’ve ever done shows that moral issues are not how Latinos vote,” Segura said.

His firm has never polled Latinos on their political stances on contraception, but Segura said that in other polls, moral issues like abortion or gay marriage have never emerged as important electoral concerns.

“And if they’re not going to vote against Democrats on abortion, they’re sure not going to vote against Democrats on contraception,” he said.

He said Latinos’ top concern this election year was the same as everyone else’s: the economy. That was followed by immigration, education and health care.

That may not be a surprise, given that Latinos have been hit hard by the recession.

That's true in working class neighborhoods like San Diego’s Southcrest, where by 7 o’clock Sunday night, Gonzalez’s church was packed. People stood outside craning their necks to watch mass through the doors.

Shortly before it started, I asked Gonzalez whether the stern message her church had been sending about contraceptives tugged, even a little, at her moral sense of good and bad.

“They’re not bad,” she said. “What’s bad is bringing a child into the world to suffer, to go hungry and sick, to not get an education. That’s worse. I love God, but it’s also my life. He gave it to me, but I make my own decisions.”

Then she chuckled, adding, “With his consent.”

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Avatar for user 'radiofree'

radiofree | February 15, 2012 at 8:50 a.m. ― 5 years ago

If you are against abortion, how can you also be against contraception?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 15, 2012 at 10:51 a.m. ― 5 years ago

Radio free, excellent question. I believe that the most hard-core fundamentalists believe that any sex outside of procreational sex with a manogamously married partner is wrong.

In other words, being monogamously married is not good enough, you should refrain from sex for pleasure even with your spouse and only have sex with the purpose of reproducing.

I was forced to go to Catholic Cult school as a kid, and there were some I. The church who even try telling teenage boys that masturbation is a sin.

I guess the reasoning of these cults is that God created your body and earthly desires just to torture you because your not allowed to function the way nature dictates we should.

It's more ideology impeding science, something invented by draconian Cult leaders supersedes mother nature.

Our nation already had this contraception debate decades ago, and I *thought* it was resolved.

But apparently the Republican challengers in this election have nothing to offer when it comes to the economy, education, defense and the environment, so they have to wage a "culture war" to overshadow real issues and to bring what would normally be an issue of concern to extremist crazies into the forefront of our national discourse.

It's not just Latinas who are rejecting this draconian idiocy it's most women and, quite frankly, most Americans.

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Avatar for user 'MattthewCScallon'

MattthewCScallon | March 27, 2012 at 5:14 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

So, KPBS, true to form, aligns itself with hypocrites like Gonzalez. Fine. Since everybody else feels qualified to tell the Catholic Church what to do, wait until the Catholic Church responds to being told what to do. You think health care is bad now. Wait until the Catholic Church closes all of Her hospitals. All of them!

You think the schools need to improve. Wait until the Catholic Church closes all of Her schools. All of them!

You think the poor are suffering. Wait until the Catholic Church closes all of Her social services. All of them!

Since everybody else wants to tell the Catholic Church what She can do, just wait for Her righteous --and justified-- response.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 27, 2012 at 7:31 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Is your threat meant to imply that churches will stop trying to by good will and converts by providing services or that they are giving up the indoctrination of the young in specialized schools? Either way, I have a difficult time fearing either of those possibilities.

If you view Gonzalez's choice as hypocritical and you also understand her need for self-preservation then you won't be surprised if many in her situation abandon an inherently harmful doctrine if they are forced to choose 'all or nothing'.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 27, 2012 at 8:36 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

by should be buy.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 27, 2012 at 9:26 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Matthew, nobody is telling the Catholic Chruch what to do with their own private funds.

This entire debate is about **money given to the Catholic Church by the government.**

Why should any organization be able to take handouts from the tax payers but refuse to follow the policies that are in place?

Catholic Church political activists have done a large propaganda campaign to make it seem like this is an assault on the church's itself and the private, donated funds that go to the church.

It's not.

It's about government handouts, and it amazes me churches are whining about this considering they already get tax breaks.

And if you are suggesting the church would simply let the poor rot rather than bend on this issue then you have beautifully confirmed my thoughts about the catholic church anyway - they are out to play politics above anything else.

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Avatar for user 'MattthewCScallon'

MattthewCScallon | March 27, 2012 at 11:13 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

@Peking_Duck_SD, on the contrary, HHS is forcing Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities to do something with their money, property, and resources that is contrary to Church teaching. If you don't like the Church's teaching on Onanism --it's a free country, and you're entitled-- don't work or seek treatment at a Catholic hospital, work or attend a Catholic school, and work or seek assistance from a Catholic charity.

On the contrary, the issue is about what the Catholic Church does with its own resources. There are other issues regarding taxpayer dollar going to the Catholic Church --namely, the HHS cancelling a contract with Catholic Charities to help human trafficking victims-- but that's a different issue.

The purpose of the Catholic Church is to save souls. The corporal works of mercy which She does --and does quite well and often-- serves that end (Matthew 25:16-31). When the government threatens the Church by forcing it to make an impossible choice between following Her teachings and serving the poor, it is the government --not the Church-- which is forcing the closure of these services. If you're so concerned about the poor being left to rot, then you should join with me in defending the Church's religious liberty. If you don't defend the Church's liberty, your liberty will be next. Such a stance is only as "political" as the Civil Rights movement and the abolitionist movement, both of which were led by people of faith.

@benz72, you have a First Amendment to your bigoted view of Catholic social services --the same First Amendment whose liberties the government is threatening-- and Ms. Gonzalez has the right --IMHO, obligation-- to join a religion which shares her corrupted view on Onanism. But to claim to be Catholic and, at the same time, reject the truth of Her teachings is hypocritical.

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Avatar for user 'MattthewCScallon'

MattthewCScallon | March 27, 2012 at 11:31 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

@radiofreem, you can be against both because, as Bl. John Paul the Great wrote in his encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae," they are fruit of the same poison tree, a tree which looks at sex as nothing more than a recreational activity and not a procreative act. When sex is treated as little more than another thrill ride, then pregnancy is treated as a disease --even though it's a natural outcome of sex-- then, in order to prevent that alledged disease, you will seek some kind of preventative measure: a vaccine, if you will. Contraception, more accurately called "Onanism," in theology (c.f. Gen. 38-7-10), becomes that vaccine. And when that "vaccine" fails, the temptation to abort, i.e., cure the disease of pregnancy, is strengthened by first treating pregnancy as an undesired outcome of sex.

In fact, the case against Onanism is so strong that all Protestant churches --that's right, all of them-- opposed it until 1920. The Church of England, ever the bandwagon church, caved in, and all other Protestant churches followed suit. So it is Catholic Church alone now in defending Scripture.

Also, if Onanism is supposed to prevent abortions, then why do we, a country with the easiest access to Onansim, have the highest abortion rate in the Western world? Why do 1 out of 3 pregnancies end in abortion? And why is that, after the former Soviet Union legalized Onanism, the abortion rate didn't go down? Simple answer: Onanism doesn't prevent pregnancy. It justs inhibits the recognition that sex causes pregnancy and keeps adults from maturing in their sexuality to recognize that.

Now, you're entitled to disagree with me. That's fine. The point is that the Catholic Church has the right to hold that view, to teach that view, and not to have the government compel the Church act in a way contrary to that view. As good American, you can't be against that, can you be?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 27, 2012 at 12:40 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Matthew, the war on religion is a myth.

Churches, including the catholic church, get far more handouts from the government than most people realize, and the millions in tax payer dollars that get handed out to religious organizations has **increased** since Obama took office.

Read this for a breakdown of the numbers:

And this debate **is** about the money churches are taking from the government.

By suggesting otherwise, you are doing the same thing conservatives have done with planned parenthood, namely spreading mis-information. Government money given to planned parenthood is by law not allowed to be used for abortions, and audits have found PP complies with this provision.

That doesn't stop churches and conservative a activists from claiming the government "pays for abortions" by giving PP federal funds.

It's the same mis-information campaign here, by implying the government is dictating how the. Hutch spends their privately acquired funds. That is simply not the case, the laws that sparked this debate are ones dealing with government funds going to religious organizations.

Churches exist under our government, not the other way around. HHS is the public health arm of our government, and responsible for the health and welfare of **all** members of our society.

They have no business giving special treatment to or going against evidence-based public health measures such as contraception to pander to religious minorities.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 27, 2012 at 1:33 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

That's exactly my point Matt, if you want to embrace a belief system that forces unhealthy behavior, do not be surprised by increasing loneliness. One of those things I believe in is adaptation, especially as a result of new knowledge. In general, successful systems are adaptable.

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Avatar for user 'MattthewCScallon'

MattthewCScallon | March 28, 2012 at 11:06 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

@Peking_Duck_SD, when you get a chance, try reading the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Churches do not exist UNDER the government; they exist SEPARATE from the government. That means that the government can not impede the free practice of religion. The HHS mandate is impeding the free practice.

You can repeat this straw man about churches taking government money over and over again, but it still won't be the point to the HHS mandate. Regardless of whether or not Catholic hospitals, schools, or charities receive government grants, HHS is forcing Onanism upon them, and that IS THE POINT!

BTW, OT, how do get bold letters? The standard hypertext doesn't work on these comments.

@benz72, not practicing Onanism is healthy behavior. Given all of the health risks with practicing Onanism --from perferated uteri to death-- it's far more healthy than practicing Onanism. I don't mind being the voice crying out in the wilderness so long the government was trying to impose itself on me, and THAT'S THE POINT!

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | March 28, 2012 at 1:04 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago


Up until a few years ago, Catholic priests were not obligated to report instances of child abuse gleaned from confessions. The church brought itself into the modern age by changing its practices. Benz' point about adaptability is spot-on. Younger generations will push organized religions to their rhetorical breaking points in the years to come. They are not going to accept "just because" as viable excuses.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 28, 2012 at 3:17 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

I find it difficult to credit the implied claim that one who does not practice onanism but engages in other sexual activity somehow avoids perforating their uterus or dying. What is more, most people will engage in sex. It makes a lot of sense to me to make the practice as safe as possible. Choosing to abstain yourself is fine, but asking others to either remain celibate or endure unnecessary risk seems counterproductive, not to mention rude.

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Avatar for user 'MattthewCScallon'

MattthewCScallon | March 28, 2012 at 5:12 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

@DeLaRick, that is not so. The sacred seal of confession is still in place, regardless of what sin might be confessed. So you're factually incorrect.

Just, for the sake of argument, let's say that the Catholic Church "adapts" Her doctrine on Onanism. If She does, that's Her business and not the business of the government. The only one with a "just because" approach to morality are the relativists who claim that a change in doctrine is an "adaptation." The Catholic Church has reams of explanatory to why Onanism is wrong. What does the other side have? Nothing but polls. For the record, Jesus never took a poll to determine doctrine, and neither will the Catholic Church. .

@benz72, by pointing out the health risks of Onanism, I stated that Onanism is not in and of itself healthier than alternatives to Onanism. For the record, the Catholic Church isn't requiring everyone to abstain from sex, but rather teaching that we have healthier respect for their bodies and their sexuality than Onanism can ever provide. If you don't want to listen to that teaching, fine, but don't force the Catholic Church to bend to your will simply because you don't like the teaching. And, even if your claim is true --which it isn't-- what the government is trying to do to the Catholic Church in order to have Her bend to its will is not just counterproductive & rude: it's unpatriotic and unconstitutional.

What happened to liberal ethic of, "What's good for me is good for me; what good for you is good for you?" Today, liberals say to the Catholic Church, "What's good for me is good; what's good for you, Catholic Church, is for you to pay for what I say is good for me." So much for liberal ethic of tolerance.

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