The Catholic Church has done enough damage to its followers with choosing between health or family planning and religious beliefs, between sexual orientation freedom and religious beliefs. (Photo by Shuttershock)

The controversy continues after the Republican Party has made a campaign issue to debate contraception as an attack on religious freedom. Yes, we are back to the 1960s, discussing rights our mothers and grandmothers fought for.

The Catholic Church has done enough damage to its followers –especially the most vulnerable- in making contraception a matter of conscience, choosing between health or family planning and religious beliefs, between sexual orientation freedom and religious beliefs, and I could go on. It has forced many Catholic parishioners live a double life or look for other religious groups that are more flexible and less punishing, or just abandon their faith. No wonder why the Catholic Church has lost ground among parishioners by the millions.

“The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has put hard numbers on the anecdotal evidence: One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic,” says Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese. Half of the people leaving the Catholic Church becomes unaffiliated.

“Looking at the responses of those who join mainline churches also provides some surprising results,” he continues, “Thirty-one percent cited unhappiness with the church’s teaching on abortion and homosexuality, women, and divorce and remarriage, and 26 percent mentioned birth control as a reason for leaving.”

To make things worse, at a hearing last Thursday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), five male religious leaders were called by the Republican side to explain why the regulation steps over religious freedom. Issa dismissed female witnesses to debate the issue because the debate, according to him, was not about reproductive rights and contraception.  Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) strongly complained:

 “Where are the women?”

Jena McGregor, at the Washington Post, offers an opinion.  “Obviously, women should have been invited: The committee missed the ‘real stories’ of how this exemption affects women,” she says. “But … there is an even bigger issue at stake: the lack of women leaders in these institutions.” And she continues, “… until more women reach positions of influence in academia and religious institutions, the real question won’t just be why there aren’t enough women on the panels, but how their absence in greater numbers at the top of our cultural organizations is influencing the very decisions being debated on the panels from which they’re missing.”

Sorry, this is missing totally the point.

Women, real life women who are responsible family planners and want to give their children the best life possible; women who are at risk of getting pregnant against their will because a cultural “unspoken rule” tells them their husband’s unwillingness to use contraceptive makes them more vulnerable; women with health problems; young women and men who have the right to live their sexual life the way they believe is best for them; women and men who want to avoid getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant, these women and men do not need priests or academics or institutions to talk for them. They can talk for themselves.

That is why I’m convinced this is not a women’s issue, it is a responsible women and men’s issue. It is exercising the basic right of asking the Church and the State to stay out of our bedrooms.

This episode, however, is not an isolated one. According to The Christian Post, “Multiple Catholic entities have encountered increasing difficulties this year reconciling its faith-based policies with new state, local and federal regulations.” The article mentions the end of a 50-year partnership between Catholic Charities and the federal government in Illinois because the organization refuses to allow same-sex or cohabitating couples to adopt or foster Catholic Charities children, a condition for receiving federal funding.

In September, federal funding was also denied to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops because they refused to use the funding to provide access to abortion and birth control services to victims of sex trafficking.

And in December, Cardinal Wuerl was also pushing the state of Maryland’s decision not to regulate abortion clinics as outpatient surgical centers. Wuerl claims Maryland abortion rate is larger than the national average and clinics perform late-term abortions.

“Thus we seek protection by law and acceptance in our culture of intermediate institutions such as the family, churches and schools, which stand between the power of the government and the conscience of individuals, all while contributing immensely to the common good,” the report the Cardinal.

In reality, the Cardinal and the Catholic Church seek protection by law to impose their discriminating practices using federal money, which is not a fair use of tax-payers’ money –even the money paid by those against whom they discriminate. An easy way out to stay within their principles is to not seek federal funding, as other churches do, and raise it among its members instead.

The Obama administration made an effort to compromise with the Catholic Church regarding the contraception issue. Practicing Catholics, faith-based organizations and women of all creeds supported the change and saw it as “good faith” solution. Not the conservative right though, expressed in Catholic presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s views condemning contraception in any shape or form – “a license to ‘do’ things” – who believes we all should go back to the life of medieval ages, when women were left at home with chastity belts.

The Catholic Church has been shaken with enough episodes involving “lack of touch with reality” –internally and externally. Despite the number of parishioners leaving the faith, the church continues in denial of the basic need of its followers, more interested in imposing doctrine than providing spiritual guidance within real life solutions.

As a result of this debate, and the opinions expressed by millions, it might be a good time for Congress as well as the Catholic Church to engage in a discussion and listen to men and women talk about how contraception can really save lives, solving health issues, preventing unplanned pregnancies, reducing the need for abortions, decreasing high rates of teen pregnancies, STDs and other situations encountered by people like you and me, who live in the real world.

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