The Sisters who cheer on Melinda Gates’s birth control campaign seem eager to drop Church teaching for their own ‘core values’

Melinda Gates (PA photo)

I blogged recently about Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates and a co-director with her husband of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a multi-billion charity aimed at the Third World. With the help of an enormous budget, Melinda has launched a new “No Controversy” campaign to spread access to birth control in the developing world. As I mentioned in that blog, although describing herself as “a practising Catholic” she is publicly critical of the Church’s stance on contraception and has stated that “it is important to question received teachings”, especially “the one saying that birth control is a sin”.

I don’t plan to answer this last statement in this blog, except to say that the Church always defends the true conjugal dignity of couples wanting to space their children and that the late Dr John Billings (for whom I had great respect and with whom I used to correspond) and his wife, Dr Lyn Billings, found a willing receptiveness in Communist China, both from local officials and couples, in teaching their method of natural family birth regulation in accordance with Church teaching. The same is true of Mother Teresa’s nuns among the Hindu poor in Calcutta.

I might add that according to a report from the C-Fam News agency, the “injectable contraceptive favoured by the Gates Foundation is Depo-Provera, which can cause early abortions by preventing a newly conceived zygote from attaching to the uterine wall”. Gates’s goal is to make contraceptives available to 120 million women by 2020, using a $4bn budget.

However, what interests me here about Mrs Gates’s campaign, launched at a recent conference in Berlin, is that she appears to be supported by the nuns of the Ursuline Academy of Dallas where she received her education. It seems the nuns contacted her after her conference speech by a phone call to her hotel room to say: “We’re all for you. We know this is a difficult issue to speak on, but we absolutely believe that you’re living under Catholic values.” Mrs Gates found this support “just so heartening”.

A formal statement was then issued by the president of the Ursuline Academy, Sister Margaret Ann Moser, which said that the nuns “are proud of Melinda French Gates, her dedication to social justice, her compassion for the undeserved and the great work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.” The president added that “Melinda Gates leads from her conscience and acts on her beliefs as a concerned citizen of our world”. She emphasised that “the mission of the Ursuline Academy of Dallas is to educate young women for such leadership.”

Sister Moser also said that the Ursuline order is committed “to the social and doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church”. While recognising that “Melinda’s beliefs on birth control are different from those of the Catholic Church”, the Sisters “respect her right to speak from her research and experience of the world we live in”.

What is there to comment about all this? Briefly, the phrase “Catholic values” used on its own can mean what you want it to mean; the question is: does Mrs Gates believe the Catholic teachings from which right values flow? Again, the phrase “social justice”, divorced from Catholic social and moral teaching, can mean anything; in this case it involves a deep injustice towards Third World couples. The same comment can be made about the word “compassion”; once you have used it, any criticism infers a lack of compassion – ie how dare those nasty Catholics talk about “compassion” when they want to keep Third World women in the Dark Ages, and so on.

Further, use of the phrase “leads from her conscience” begs other questions: how do we discern if our conscience is telling us the truth? Has it been formed by fidelity to Church teachings or by the secular world? Finally (a breathtaking contradiction), the Ursulines both recognise that Mrs Gates dissents from Church teaching while at the same time respecting “her right to speak from her research and her experience of the world we live in”. This of course suggests that such “research” is obviously valid and that the Church has little “experience” of the real world (run as it is by elderly celibates in the Vatican and so on). One could hardly invent such a hotchpotch of vagueness, suggestiveness and plain disingenuousness if one sat down and tried. No wonder Mrs Gates commented: “You know, the nuns who taught me were incredibly progressive.”

After reading Sister Moser’s statement I checked out the “mission, core values [that word again] and philosophy” of the Ursuline Academy of Dallas. It speaks of the “total development of the individual student through spiritual formation, intellectual growth, service to others and building of community…Dedicated to the Church’s mission of communicating the Gospel, the academy seeks to foster the message of God’s love… in support of Gospel truths and values” (what a loaded little word this is becoming). There is also mention of “communal openness to truth in all its forms”. It all sounds like James Murdoch describing, in his Harvard Business School kind of jargon, the “core values” of his father’s media empire.

A priest I used to know was sent to a parish that had slowly been taken over by lay committees dedicated to compassionate values; it had inevitably become a hotbed of liberal heresies. He immediately nailed to the door of the church the motto “Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia” (“Where there is Peter, there is the Church”) ie where there is fidelity to the teaching authority of the successor of St Peter, the first Pope, there is the Church.

Perhaps when they use the word “Church” so freely, the Ursuline Sisters of Dallas and Melinda Gates should remember this?