February 23, 2007

HPV morality, or, tilting at windmills

Yesterday after I dropped the kiddos off at their catholic school, a good friend and neighbor of mine peeled into the parking lot and hopped out, the lyrics of The Smiths' 'Cemetary Gates,' emanating from her lips. Of course we stopped and chatted.

My friend is the mother of three adopted siblings -- and she struggles with their needs — mostly brought on by their painful history — on a daily basis. We're both feminists and mothers of pre-teen daughters, so our conversation usually ends up as more of a rant about the disturbing things we observe amongst middle-schoolers. My daughter has another year to go before reaching middle school, so I always listen attentively to what my friend recounts. I want to be prepared.

Apparently, a few months ago, the middle-schoolers were asked to attend a talk, meant to help them navigate the choppy waters of pre-teen hormonal angst and stay mindful of what the church teaches. I was thankful that my daughter was not yet old enough to attend this talk, as I was naturally skeptical. I mean, haven't we already established as a church that we (collectively, by-and-large) have dismissed the church's teaching on sexual morality when it comes to birth control, abstinence, pre-marital sex, etc...? While I'm no fan of abortion, I have observed many situations, tragic as they may be, where I would not call the decision "intrinsically immoral."

But even I was shocked when the speaker (a man, of course) direced the lecture directly at the girls in the audience and moralized about Gardasil, the newly released vaccine that prevents transmission of the HPV vaccine, which in some women can mutate to form a deadly type of Cervical Cancer. Good little Catholic girls, it seems, would not be needing such a vaccine, because naturally, they will maintain their chastity.

My blood boiled when I heard this. So wrong, on so many levels.

First, just logically, HPV causes Cervical Cancer -- a disease that has struck nearly every woman on my mother's side of the family -- including my mother. As the mother of two daughters, this is a huge medical concern for me. If I were not already too old for it, I would have been first in line for the shot. And, even if a woman were to remain chaste her entire life, that would not discount the high rate of rape, incest and spousal cheating that takes place on a daily basis. Should a woman have to pay with her very life for the sins of men? Sadly, that has historically been the churches position on sexual matters. To wit, their steadfast insistence that although condoms can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, abstinence is the only "100% guarantee."

After I wrote my letters to the school and the archdiocese on this matter, I was pleasantly suprised, then angered again, that the church actually DOES NOT teach that the HPV vaccine is "immoral." As I knew in my gut, it is the INTENTION of one's actions -- in this case, preventing cancer -- that is material in deciding morality. So who was this speaker then, to mis-represent the church's position? Oh, to be sure, the right-wing catholic wingnuts have latched onto this and are confident of deeming it "immoral," but they need to learn that they do not speak for the church universal. The church is wrong on many things, but so far, they seem to be getting this one mostly right -- and anyone who claims that the church's position is other than it actually is, damages it.

If my calling is to turn around patriarchy in the church and advance the stature of woman -- then I can't spend my time tilting at windmills, as these wingnuts would have me do. They have no right to come into the church and claim to be the teachers of the faith, swapping the true teaching for their own antithetical teachings.


vegan.mama said...
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vegan.mama said...

See, this is where being protestant would serve you so much better. Then you'd have a personal relationship with god that didn't necessarily depend on your church or its teachings but, instead, on your own interpretation of the bible and its messages. Or kind of. Obviously, even protestants can't go off willy nilly and dive into the cesspool of relativism.

ANYHOW, who cares what they think? Your kiddos are going to get messages that are no-holds-barred WRONG for many years to come, and as long as you're open with them and explain why you hold the values you do, and provide them with the skills to both think critically and express their views articulately and politely, then you'll be creating your own firestorm progeny before you know it. Go ahead and rail against the church, but realize that it's in your own small spaces -- and what you create, build, and foster in those spaces -- where the most impossible of changes is possible, and where the things that scared the church most can't hardly be stopped.

Anima Sola said...

For my view on why I remain a Catholic, read Andrew Greeley's "Why I'm Still A Catholic," which sums it up nicely.