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Vatican newspaper says Melinda Gates ‘off the mark’ on contraception

Melinda Gates said she struggled with the idea of publicly opposing Church teaching

The Vatican newspaper has sharply criticised Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who announced in July that the couple’s foundation would give $560 million (£360 million) during the next eight years to increase women’s access to a contraception.

Under the headline “birth control and disinformation”, the article on the front page of the July 29 edition of L’Osservatore Romano said Mrs Gates was free to make charitable donations to whomever she wants, but not to spread incorrect information.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mrs Gates identified herself as a practising Catholic who “struggled” with the idea of publicly opposing Church teaching to promote a project aimed at giving 120 million women in developing countries access to contraceptives by 2020.

Mrs Gates said she felt compelled to act to “keep women alive. I believe in not letting women die, I believe in not letting babies die.”

Writing in L’Osservatore, Giulia Galeotti, a frequent contributor on abortion and other life issues, said “the American philanthropist is off the mark”, the victim of “bad information and persistent stereotypes on this theme. To still believe that by opposing the use of condoms, the Catholic Church leaves women and children to die because of misogynist intransigence is a baseless and shoddy reading.”

Mrs Gates told the Guardian that the Catholic Church allowed natural family planning, but “for our foundation, well, we promote modern tools because these have the most impact”. At the same time the Church can and should continue to teach women how to space births naturally, she said. “Let a woman choose what it is she would like to use.”

Mrs Galeotti said the comment reflected the widespread but mistaken notion of the ineffectiveness of natural family planning (NFP) methods that involve teaching couples to recognise the natural signs of a woman’s fertility and act accordingly.

The “smile of condescension” and descriptions of NFP as unscientific or primitive probably are not completely accidental, Mrs Galeotti wrote.

No one is getting rich off NFP methods that “do not cost anything, do not damage a woman’s health and are considered 98 per cent effective”, she said.