Monica Rafie and Tracy Winsor

How can we stop more Down syndrome babies from being aborted?

Monica Rafie and Tracy Winsor
By Monica Rafie and Tracy Winsor

December 16, 2011 (HLIAmerica.org) - As word spread of a new non-invasive, highly accurate prenatal test for Down syndrome, MaterniT21, the headlines could hardly have been more sensationalistic: The End of Down Syndrome! Will We Cull Those with Down Syndrome? Are Kids with Down Syndrome on the Road to Extinction?

This mainstream response seems to suggest a terrible acknowledgment of what happens to babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome. We have been “ending Down syndrome” for years, targeting atypical unborn children as we journey down a road that ensures a decreasing Down syndrome birth rate.

Just last week, a Time magazine article reported statistics pulled from a 2009 edition of the Archives of Disease in Childhood. As a result of more sophisticated prenatal screening, and with nine out of ten babies aborted following the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, the birth rate for these children has been dropping for decades, decreasing by 15% between 1989 and 2005. This is particularly shocking as the impact of increasing maternal age during the same period should have resulted in a 24% increase in the Down syndrome birth rate.

What makes MaterniT21 (and all the new non-invasive prenatal tests based upon maternal plasma DNA) different and foreseeably catastrophic is that it will draw in a larger percentage of pregnant women. Those who reject invasive testing because of associated risks are likely to consent to a non-invasive test.  Advocates for those with Down syndrome have braced for just that reality, predicting that the Down syndrome birth rate (roughly 1 in 700 now) will drop sharply once non-invasive tests such as MaterniT21 are more widely available.

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With an abortion rate that has consistently been around 90%, shouldn’t we also be asking ourselves why our best efforts at advocacy for those prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome have failed? And the related, and more important question, how can we improve our advocacy efforts?

Persons with Down syndrome and their families are blessed to have strong communities of support, both locally, and nationally, through such organizations as the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and their local affiliates. These organizations have worked very hard for their constituents to gain access to education, employment, and healthcare opportunities as well as representation among those granted federal funds for medical research. They are to be commended for successful advocacy in these areas.

Over the years, NDSC and NDSS have offered multi-pronged, intelligent, and inspired efforts surrounding the issue of prenatal diagnosis. Both organizations have worked to improve the public profile of persons with Down syndrome using traditional and social media. They have addressed the discriminatory practice of targeted prenatal testing, produced positive, accurate, and updated information for parents experiencing a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, disseminated materials aimed at improving the sensitivity and response of doctors, genetic counselors and other medical professionals. They have even organized local in-person outreach initiatives to offer peer support to parents at the time of diagnosis. None of these efforts, however, have been successful in bringing society at large to a fundamental shift, or tipping point, whereby babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome are more likely to be carried to term and welcomed at birth by their parents.

The primary threat to the lives of persons with Down syndrome is no longer prenatal testing and diagnosis; nor is it ignorance, outdated information, lack of peer and professional support, nor even insensitive communication at the time of diagnosis. The primary threat to the lives of persons with Down syndrome is abortion. Yet, the major Down syndrome organizations are often unwilling to face that issue head on.

In 2008, NDSS and NDSC met with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Medical Genetics, and National Society of Genetic Counselors, and in 2009 released a jointly-written document titled, “Toward Concurrence: Understanding Prenatal Screening and Diagnosis of Down Syndrome from the Health Professional and Advocacy Community Perspectives“. The document addresses a handful of “misconceptions” about the organizations and their practices. The collaborative statement acquitted medical professionals of any “eugenic” motives surrounding the use of prenatal screening and testing, and affirmed that genetic counselors do not engage in directive counseling. Of all the possible misconceptions to present, the single one brought forth by NDSC and NDSS is to dismiss any idea that they are “pro-life” organizations.

Dr. Brian Skotko, a Harvard educated Pediatric MD, Certified Geneticist, and specialist in Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Boston, Board Member of NDSS and NDSC, author of numerous articles and oft-cited research about families of persons with Down syndrome,  most recently wrote about the expected effect of non-invasive prenatal diagnosis in a USA Today column. With a statement that perfectly echoes the positions of the national Down syndrome organizations, Skotko clearly indicates that Down syndrome advocacy ends where expectant parents’ decision-making begins: “I care deeply that patients receive accurate, up-to-date, balanced information so they can make informed decisions. Yet, as a physician, I am not in the business of telling expectant couples what pregnancy decisions they should be making when their fetus has Down syndrome. That is their decision.”

Skotko continues, “But the decision no longer needs to be made in a vacuum, nor should it be made with lingering misperceptions that are still whispered in our society.” With an abortion rate close to 25% for all babies nationwide, and in some areas, as high as 46%, perhaps it is worth considering that it may not be lingering misconceptions that dispose parents toward a decision to abort after diagnosis. Perhaps instead, the abortion rate for Down syndrome is the natural consequence of a diseased culture, influenced by 40 years of abortion on demand. Perhaps most abort simply because they can.

There is a dawning sense that the problem is much more complex than lingering misconceptions. Advocate, attorney, and father, Mark Leach, in The Prenatal Testing Sham, argues that Down syndrome advocacy focused on informing expectant parents with accurate and up-to-date resources about raising a child with Down syndrome is at this point the only card left to play: “Absent some fundamental societal change, these offsetting resources are really the only chance we have to turn the tide of decisions following a prenatal diagnosis.” Leach may be correct in his argument, but there is little evidence to support the hope that these resources will to any significant degree affect the numbers of parents who would otherwise abort.

Renate Lindeman, President of the Nova Scotia Down Syndrome Society, and mother of two children with Down syndrome, in anticipation of the imminent release of non-invasive prenatal tests, writes in the Canadian Medical Association Journal article, “Take Down Syndrome Out of the Abortion Debate”: “The best way to create a society that embraces (genetic and other) differences is to educate and engage the public and to support individual choices, whatever they are.” There has been no shortage of support for individual choices for 40 years. Why then are we still discussing “the best way to create a society that embraces difference”?

If the future plays out as has the past, advocacy for the child with Down syndrome in the womb will, in fact, be the only card left to play. What’s missing in the otherwise comprehensive approach of the NDSC and the NDSS is the simple and confident assertion that abortion is not an appropriate parental response to the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. If the strongest, best advocacy refrains from articulating that even a fully-informed decision to abort a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome is a poor one, then who will make that argument?

If it is our goal to discover the best way to create a society that embraces (genetic and other) differences, can we even begin such an endeavor when we accept the idea that the unborn baby is so other, so different from us that they are not worthy of protection? Authentic and effective Down syndrome advocacy must begin by embracing and advocating specifically for the baby with Down syndrome in the womb. Until the Down syndrome advocacy organizations recognize this truth, the recurring headlines will continue to read, “The End of Down Syndrome!”

A blueprint for better disability advocacy can be discovered in the Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities. Its vision is rooted in justice and is hopeful that change can be acheived,  with no hint of resignation to the failure of individuals or the challenge of “contemporary circumstances”:

We look to the future with what we feel is a realistic optimism. The Church has a tradition of ministry to people with disabilities, and this tradition will fuel the stronger, more broadly based efforts called for by contemporary circumstances. We also have faith that our quest for justice, increasingly enlisted on the side of individuals with disabilities, will work powerfully in their behalf. No one would deny that every man, woman and child has the right to develop his or her potential to the fullest. With God’s help and our own determination, the day will come when that right is realized in the lives of all people with disabilities.

Monica Rafie and Tracy Winsor are founding partners in the work of Be Not Afraid Ministry, an outreach to parents grappling with prenatal diagnosis. Monica and Tracy are Contributing Writers for HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International. Their recent articles may be found at HLI America’s Truth and Charity Forum. This article first appeared at HLIAmerica.org

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Jeb Bush has already ‘evolved’ on marriage, and his advisers are at war with social conservatives: analysts

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The fact that Jeb Bush has surrounded himself with campaign advisers who have been hostile to social conservatives is just one sign that the former Florida governor has secretly “evolved” in his views of gay “marriage,” according to several figures who have spoken with him privately.

Bush, a leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has been hiring national staffers who have actively campaigned for the GOP to capitulate and embrace the redefinition of marriage or at least capitulate to judicial rulings that overturn the will of voters.

“When Bush officially launches his presidential bid later this year, he will likely do so with a campaign manager who has urged the Republican Party to adopt a pro-gay agenda; a chief strategist who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief arguing for marriage equality in California; a longtime adviser who once encouraged her minister to stick to his guns in preaching [marriage redefinition] for same-sex couples; and a communications director who is openly gay,” writes McKay Coppins in BuzzFeed.

The Bush 2016 campaign staffers include:

“In a word, if personnel is policy, Jeb is telling the pro-family community to drop dead,” said Bryan Fischer, host of Focal Point on AFR Talk.

Campbell told Buzzfeed that the staffing decisions reflected Jeb Bush's ideas of who would be best for the position, and “Gov. Bush’s position on gay marriage is clear. If he pursues a run, it will be premised on his agenda and views, not anyone else’s.”

But insiders say it is not merely his closest advisers and operatives who embrace a redefinition of marriage; several people who have spoken with Jeb say he secretly supports gay “marriage” or, at least, will offer no opposition to it.

One such donor, namely David Aufhauser, who signed the amicus and has co-hosted a fundraiser for Bush in Virginia, said, “His thinking [on marriage equality] appears to have evolved.” Other donors, who preferred to remain anonymous, agreed.

Bush's public stance has certainly shifted. As a conservative candidate running for governor of Florida in 1994, Jeb Bush wrote that he opposed conferring special rights on homosexuals: “[S]hould sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No.”

But according to the New York Times, Sally Bradshaw “helped recalibrate Mr. Bush as a more moderate candidate” in 1998. Today, donors who have spoken with Bush tell Buzzfeed they have walked away convinced that he quietly supports same-sex “marriage” or is ambivalent on the subject. They hope he will announce his support for redefining marriage after the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the subject this summer.

A senior Republican fundraiser said fleeing any opposition to homosexual “marriage” is a necessity to get any funding from the party's donor class. Although support for redefining marriage “hasn’t become a litmus test yet,” a senior Republican fundraiser said prospective candidates “have to be approaching the LGBT issue with a new mindset in order to be taken seriously” by the party's megadonors.

Sen. Rob Portman, as vice chairman of finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, announced his newfound support for gay “marriage” shortly after holding a dozen meetings with major campaign donors in New York who were unhappy with the party's pro-family platform.

Bush, who hopes to raise as much as $100 million before he formally enters the presidential contest, is the elite contributors' favorite now that Mitt Romney has declined a third presidential bid and Chris Christie stumbled during a meeting with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

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Billionaire Paul Singer, who has devoted more than $13 million of his own money to promote homosexual "marriage" in the GOP, is said to view Bush in a positive light.

Bush has also attracted the support of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-abortion Republican who ripped pro-life and pro-family conservatives as “narcissists and ideologues” imbued with an “unacceptable rigidity and self-righteousness on social issues” and who secretly promote “tyranny.”

The split between the Republican Establishment and its grassroots conservative base foreshadows a harder than expected fight for Jeb Bush in the primaries. “Endorsing gay marriage would make it difficult to win Iowa, even with Kochel on board,” conservative political analyst Jim Antle writes at The Week, “and would probably prevent Bush from emulating his brother's 2000 nomination strategy: combining establishment and evangelical support to prevent the emergence of a viable conservative alternative.”

But others warn it forebodes something more serious – yet another Republican presidential loss in 2016. Mike Huckabee and Gary Bauer, among others, have threatened to leave the Republican Party if it abandons its support of traditional marriage – one of two reasons the GOP was founded in the 1850s.

“Not all social [conservatives] will feel that way but a few hundred thousand spread across swing states are potentially the difference between winning and losing,” the blogger Allahpundit wrote at HotAir.com. “The right’s perennial fear of 'moderate' Republicans is that they campaign as conservatives and govern as independents. Jeb’s not even campaigning as a conservative.”

Fischer foresees another Bush candidacy depressing voter turnout and handing the election to a Democrat like Hillary Clinton.

“If conservatives want to save their party, and more importantly save America, step one is stopping Jeb Bush dead in his tracks,” he said. 

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When he began shooting a film on a pastor saving disabled babies, he had no idea God was planning to save him

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By Pete Baklinski
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Babies Pastor Lee has brought into his home through the drop box. Arbella Studios

March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Brian Ivie, 25, grew up in California dreaming about making movies. He loved making homemade movies with his friends and eventually went to school to learn how to make them professionally. He was always on the lookout for that one story that he would turn into a movie that would be his ticket to the Sundance Film Festival and rocket him to fame and fortune.

While flipping through the L.A. Times one morning in June 2011, Brian came across the story of a man in Korea who saved unwanted babies by having a baby box installed on the side of his home where parents could drop them off anonymously.

“That alone was compelling to me, the fact that this existed at all,” he told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview.

Brian immediately saw the story’s potential. Here was the golden opportunity he had been looking for. He contacted the reporter who put him in touch with Pastor Lee Jong-Rak of Seoul, South Korea, the man behind the drop box.

Six months later he was flying to Korea with a team of friends to film a documentary.

“I went to Korea, planning to use this family to be my golden ticket to Sundance,” he said.

Before leaving, Brian picked up a cheap cross necklace so he could wear it to create “some sort of trust between me and this Pastor.”

“I didn’t really know what the cross meant. I just knew that it was this rallying cry for Christendom,” he said.

Brian had grown up thinking he was basically Christian, but having a real relationship with God was something that he had never factored into his life.

“I honestly thought I was a Christian, because I wasn’t a Muslim. I thought I was a Christian because, you know, it’s like you’re American, you’re a Christian, like apple pie and the Bible.”

“I just figured I was a Christian because I didn’t smoke cigarettes, and I watched Fox News with my mom. It was a very cultural label for me. It was a very decorative thing, like a decorative cross you put in the house, but you have no understanding of what it is.”

“My understanding of God, because of the media, was very warped,” he said.

When Brian arrived at Pastor Lee’s home in Seoul, what he experienced made him rethink his entire life. In Pastor Lee, Brian encountered a man who had been rescued out of the gutters of alcoholism and rage to do a work that most people would recognize as utterly selfless and heroic.

“He was not a natural born hero. This is an ordinary man who made a lot of mistakes and needed forgiveness, and once he received that and was saved from his own sin and from hell, then he went out and saved and rescued other kids,” Brian said.

Pastor Lee created the baby box because of the number of babies being abandoned on the streets, many of them dying from exposure before help arrived. The baby box would be a safe harbor to welcome and care for these babies. More than 600 babies have now come through the baby box.

“They’re not the unnecessary ones in the world. God sent them here for a purpose,” Pastor Lee says in the film.

Brian returned to California with his footage, but he was constantly haunted by what he had witnessed in Pastor Lee. He felt like something was missing from his own life, but he could not put his finger on it. Then one day while listening to a podcast about why Jesus died, he suddenly realized what that was.

“This podcast was all about how Jesus Christ took our place. When I heard that, it was like a movie through my own head.”

Brian started imagining Jesus suffering in his place for the six years he had been addicted to pornography, for his abusive relationships with girls, and for his loud and violent outbursts of anger toward his friends, girlfriends, and co-workers. He saw Jesus take it all upon himself and suffer for it all on the cross.

“So, I broke down. I started crying. All I could say was: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Even for a guy who didn’t lead some extreme life — I wasn’t the leader of some Mexican cartel, I didn’t almost overdose on heroine, I didn’t murder anybody in cold blood — but I needed to be forgiven, because I had done some shameful things, especially towards God. I realized all that, and knew that I needed to be saved too.”

“I hated myself for a while. But what changed all that was the Father’s love which said ‘I still want you, and in fact, I want you so much that I sent my Son because I’m willing to give everything for you, even though you don’t deserve it.”

Brian began connecting the dots between his filming in Korea about the drop box for babies and his own need to be saved.

“The drop box is the place we all belong. It’s the place we find ourselves when we go: ‘You know, gosh, I need to be saved. I need to be rescued from sin and from this place I’m running to which is called hell, which is the place where I am separated from God. I’m running there and Jesus can save me.”

“The drop box symbolized that to me because it’s the place where you are bound up in the dark, totally helpless and incapable of doing anything about it, and you need a father to come pull you out through the laundry room and into the light,” he said.

With his new spiritual insight, Brian traveled back to Korea in August 2012 to retell the story, this time from the perspective of love.

“The goal was to tell the story that I had experienced of the Father’s love as shown through this man, Pastor Lee.”

Brian’s film The Drop Box, released through Focus on the Family and Pine Creek Entertainment, has already won numerous awards at film festivals. It is opening this week in 800 theaters across North America.

Brian now realizes that his biggest mistake in life is thinking he was too good to need God’s forgiveness.

“My hope is that people realize that they need to be saved and that they would see themselves in these kids and God as Pastor Lee. Because to me, he's living proof of a loving God, and God is putting himself on display through this man.”

“What I see in this film is a man who has given up everything in his life for these children who have been lost on the street. I hope what people see is a picture of something much higher than that, which is really God giving everything on the cross for all of us lost people,” he said.

The Drop Box opens in U.S. cinemas today and in Canada tomorrow. Find a list of U.S. theaters here. Find a list of Canadian theaters here

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Lisa Bourne

San Francisco archbishop under attack: critics of Catholic school reforms hire high-profile PR guru

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By Lisa Bourne
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Public relations specialist Sam Singer

SAN FRANCISCO, March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Critics of San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone have raised the stakes in their opposition to improving the Catholic identity of the city’s Catholic high schools by hiring a high-profile PR strategist.

“Concerned parents are footing the bill” to hire “media relations heavyweight” Sam Singer, reports SF Weekly.

Singer specializes in crisis communication for high-profile figures and describes himself as The Fixer and Top Gun for Hire on his website. He’s also been called The Master of Disaster for his public relations work, which includes representing the San Francisco Zoo in the 2007 killing of a young man by the zoo’s Siberian tiger, and where, according to the news outlet, Singer “shaped hearts and minds to sympathize with the tiger.”

While media reports are not clear about who specifically is behind hiring Singer, the move shows the broad nature and depth of the battle against the archbishop’s efforts to uphold Church teaching.

At the same time Singer told SF Weekly, “he hopes the archbishop sees that the ‘loyalty oath’ he's asking of teachers does 'not keep with Catholic values'," he also said he didn’t accept the job of countering the archbishop’s efforts to maintain Catholic identity because “he himself is religious, necessarily.”

"I'm half Catholic, half Jewish," Singer said. "I like to say I'm the most guilty, most worried man alive." 

The archdiocese announced February 3 that they would add statements on morality to faculty handbooks, as well as three new clauses to teacher contracts, all derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Cordileone explained at the outset that the intent was not to target anyone, but rather to clarify Church teaching and the long-established expectation of Catholic school employees to not publicly contradict the faith.

It is something he has continued to emphasize, along with the need for Catholic schools to be clear in imparting Catholic principles.

“We’re not on a witch hunt; we’re not looking to terminate teachers,” Archbishop Cordileone told the New York Times this week.

He said he was introducing the new language because “young people are under intense pressure today to conform to certain standards that are contrary to what we believe,” and he had focused on “hot-button issues” to clear up “the confusion.”

The archbishop also told the newspaper that he knew that not all teachers at the schools were Catholic, and he affirmed again that a teacher’s private life would remain private. He said his concern was that in their public lives faculty “don’t do anything to compromise the mission of our schools.”

Eight Democrat California lawmakers wrote a letter February 17 pressuring the archbishop to back down on the efforts. But the archbishop responded, “Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?” 

“My point is: I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission,” he said. “I simply ask the same respect from you.”

Two of the lawmakers then called for an investigation of working conditions at high schools administered by the archdiocese by the state’s Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“California cannot become a laboratory for discrimination under the guise of religion,” the two Democrats told CBS San Francisco.

They said the archbishop’s measures to uphold Church teaching “set a dangerous precedent for workers’ rights through manipulations of law that deprive employees of civil rights guaranteed to all Californians.”

After a meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board on February 24, the paper reported that Cordileone was backtracking, but the archdiocese denied it in a follow-up statement.

The archbishop did agree, however, that they would not classify teachers as “ministers,” which teachers feared would remove them from federally-recognized civil rights protection.

“The Archbishop has not repealed anything,” Father John Piderit SJ, Vicar for Administration for the archdiocese and Moderator of the Curia said in the statement. “He is adding explanations, clarifications, and material on Catholic social teaching, via a committee of religion teachers he is establishing.” 

“The committee is to expand some areas of the material to be included in the faculty handbook, and clarify other areas by adding material,” said Father Piderit, who was also present at the meeting. “Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”

The archdiocese stated the word “ministers” is no longer being considered to classify faculty, however the word “ministry” remained part of the language, and the archbishop was working to identify language that satisfies two needs, one to protect teachers’ rights and the other the right of the archdiocese to run Catholic schools that are faithful to its mission.

“Even if a substitute for ‘ministry’ is found,” Father Piderit said, “the substitute must guarantee that the teachers in the Catholic archdiocesan high schools promote the Catholic mission of the institutions."

Singer persisted in the apparent push for the archbishop to back down after the meeting.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Singer told the online magazine Crux. “So we’ll have to take a look at what the archbishop comes back with. But this is certainly a step in the right direction, and is welcomed by many of the parents, teachers and alumni. But there is still much work to be done.”

The Chronicle subsequently made a video of the meeting available, which was published by the archdiocese.

“The point I want to emphasize most of all though, is that everything that we do is for our students,” Archbishop Cordileone said in the meeting with the newspaper. “My primary concern and the most important thing, and that of everyone involved in the educational ministry of our archdiocese, is for the good of our students.”

Media reports also continue to highlight resistance to the archbishop’s efforts, and misunderstanding of Church doctrine in the moral issues the Church statements concern, such as homosexuality.

The Church teaches that while all people are deserving of respect as children of God, homosexual acts immoral and can never be accepted.

“We pray for the archbishop that his heart is changed,” Gus O’Sullivan told the New York Times. The openly gay senior at one of the schools spoke at a candlelight protest, reportedly part of the Singer campaign.

Michael Vezzali, a teacher at one of the schools and a union official, said the archbishop was “a very wise man,” but “we feel our schools are places where we’re supposed to share the gospel of Jesus and love, no matter what.”

“Our community is in pain; our teachers are scared,” said Jessica Hyman, another senior at one of the archdiocesan high schools.

“We sent our kids to these schools because they uphold the fundamental principles of our faith of love, acceptance and respect,” said Kathy Curran, a mother of freshman. “This language says some people are not O.K. — and that’s not O.K.”

Archbishop Cordileone’s language “is very, very hurtful,” but “he is representing exactly the Roman Catholic sexual doctrine,” Santa Clara University Associate Professor of Moral Theology Lisa Fullam told the New York Times. “Bishops do have a lot of authority in their own diocese.”

Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, and co-author of the book American Catholics in Transition, which chronicled changes in Catholics’ attitudes and behavior from 1987-2011, said what’s happening in San Francisco reflects the attitudinal wavering among Catholics.

“The church wants people to be aware of official church teachings because they think there is confusion in the culture,” Dillon told the New York Times. “A lot of Catholics aren’t confused. They simply ignore the church’s teachings.”

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