On June 10, I read an interview in the most important and conservative Chilean newspaper, "El Mercurio", with the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz — who is also the President of CELAM, the Episcopalian Council for Latin America and the Caribbean. He is arguable one of the most important men in the Catholic Church in Latin America.
Below I quote some of the questions and his answers (the translations are mine):
Interviewer: What will you do to keep this continent being mostly Catholic in a world where socialists and progressives are taking the lead, and where there is legalization of abortion, divorce, euthanasia and homosexual marriage?
Cardinal: It has always seemed to us an aberration calling the union of two people of the same sex "marriage." Sometimes "progressive" ideas are the most retrograde of the world. ¿What is more retrograde than what Mr. Zapatero is doing in Spain, forcing, by law, that the union between two people of the same sex is marriage? If you abandon natural law, I do not see what is the criterion not to go back to polygamy and polyandry, or not to call marriage the union of one woman with five men and two women. More retrograde policies I do not know!
Interviewer: How will you handle issues of birth rates in a world poorer everyday? Generally, poor people have more kids, since they don't have the means to avoid it…..
Cardinal: That is not the reason. A mother of a poor environment values being a mother, and does not make the decision of dividing her time: 20 percent for kids, the rest for her profession. Many young women in universities don't have maternity in their horizons. For some of the policies that are implemented to be successful — such as policies on gender for women empowerment, it is important that they have few kids.
Interviewer: Do you think women empowerment is a bad thing?
Cardinal: No. It is very good. But causing the twilight of maternity for any reason is bad. I am very skeptical of policies that do not want to speak of marriage and maternity, but want to speak of sexuality and empowerment of women. They only value work outside of the home, they further contraception and do not favor the presence of the mother in the growth of her children.
Although the interview covered many different topics, these three questions do a good job in summing up what he thinks about sexual and reproductive rights. There are many issues that could be discussed, not least his adherence to the very discredited idea of a natural law, or his inability to understand the meaning of marriage as a union between two persons instead of man and woman, but I want to comment on two issues that I think are at the moment more pressing for Latin America, birth rates and maternity.
How is it possible that one of the most important men in the Catholic Church in Latin America believes that the increased birth rate in poor populations is due not to poverty and lack of opportunities, but to a real desire of those women to be mothers, which, according to him, is not found anymore in women who decide and have the opportunity to become professionals? Such a statement is nothing more than evidence of his total ignorance on issues of population and development. Disregarding the links between birth rates and development is nothing but a sign of his misunderstanding of these issues. That these kinds of men, who are not prepared to read, study and learn about what they babble on, and are leading millions of people in Latin America, is more than disappointing. You can't advocate on behalf of the poor (one of the supposed main objectives of the Catholic Church) from a position of ignorance and disregard of the knowledge being generated by those who are truly dedicated to overcoming poverty.
The second issue that I want to point out from this interview is what I think is a failure of the progressive civil society movements in Latin America. We have not been able to clearly convey to the population that we are not against maternity, which is how we are all too often portrayed by zealots like the one interviewed above. We have focused for years on access to contraception (which is still scarce), equal rights for women (an objective still out of reach) and the right to safe abortion (out of reach would be an understatement…).
We have neglected to talk about motherhood, and so we still have a long way to go in having the population understand that what we strive against is not maternity, but forced motherhoods, undignified lives due to a lack of control over one's own body, and the conception that women's role in life is reproductive. I do not intend us to be able to have men such as the one interviewed above change their opinion, since most of them are not willing to listen and learn, but we should be able to show the population that there is nothing more pro-motherhood than being progressive. We still have much work to do.