Recent claims that the Catholic Church disregards women fail to acknowledge the Church’s critical work to support women and families around the world, say leaders in medicine, academia and global relief work. “Anyone who thinks that the Catholic Church doesn’t support women doesn’t know much about the Church, its mission and its presence around the world,” said Joan Rosenhauer, Executive Vice President of US Operations for Catholic Relief Services. “Every day, the Catholic community supports women with opportunities to strengthen their families, become better educated, and build their economic and food security. Our presence across the globe, including in some of the most remote places on earth, allows us to help many women the rest of the world has left behind,” she told CNA Aug. 27. A recent “Poverty Matters” blog post in the British daily The Guardian criticized the Church as being anti-woman. Entitled “Pope Francis has done little to improve women’s lives,” the blog post argued particularly against the Church’s stance on human sexuality. Rosenhauer pointed to several initiatives Catholic Relief Services has started to help alleviate poverty, particularly for women and their families. For example, the Savings and Internal Lending Communities program has provided loans to more than 1 million people — over 80 percent of them women — to help start small family businesses or help women to become financially independent. Additionally, Rosenhauer said, “thousands of girls and women are being helped around the world every day through Church-run programs focusing on maternal and child nutrition, girls’ education, and livelihoods for women, to name just a few.” CRS runs programs that both distribute food in times of need and teach farming techniques that aid with food production and nutrition. The Catholic Church, she continued, also provides programming, such as The Faithful House in sub-Saharan Africa, that helps strengthen families and relationships between spouses in order to help families find their basis in loving, respectful relationships. Participants in the Faithful House, she said “report decreased alcohol use, better management of household finances, improved budgeting and savings, and the ability to pay for essential items such as school fees, household repairs, and transportation.” One participant comment that “by the time our children have their own families, society will be better than it is now because children learn from watching their parents in a loving and respectful relationship.” The Church’s sexual teachings also help support women and families, Rosenhauer said. Catholic Relief Service’s work to teach Natural Family Planning methods help “women adopt life-affirming ways to space births in order to reduce the risk of the mothers dying during labor and improve the chances that babies will be born healthy and thrive.” Other organizations corroborate the Church’s emphasis on providing life-affirming development policies. In 2009, Dr. Donna J. Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, briefed the U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights on the risks of promoting abortion as part of attempts to aid international development or address maternal mortality. The provision of abortion in developing countries, Harrison wrote, “increases, not decreases maternal mortality and morbidity in resource poor nations,” increasing the “risk of hemorrhage, infection and incomplete abortion” in such areas. The promotion of abortion as a development policy, she continued, also diverts funds and attention from interventions that have been proven to help reduce maternal mortality and increase overall health such as “prenatal care, skilled birth attendants, antibiotics and oxytocics.” Helen Alvare, law professor at George Mason University and consultor for the Pontifical Council for the Laity, called critics of the Church’s reproductive and sexual teachings to consider the importance of these teachings in helping save the lives of the poor. Abortion destroys lives, she told CNA, notably “millions of children, and their mothers suffering the physical, psychological and spiritual aftermath of a surgery unlike any other on earth.” The Church’s teachings also help protect the most vulnerable members of society — particularly women, children and the poor — from “the sex and mating markets that grow up when sex is divorced even from the idea of kids.” The promotion of birth control and abortion in such schemas, Alvare noted, leads to an increase in the “rates of single moms and rates of abortions,” as well as a decline in marriage rates.
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