Several delegates to the 20th annual Catholic World Youth Day, a six-day gathering in Cologne, Germany, of thousands of young Catholics, are raising eyebrows with their vocal lobbying for the Vatican to drop its ban on condom use.
Church experts say there's little chance of a major change in church policy, and they're questioning the motives of World Youth Day 4 All, an international youth coalition sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice.
Rome's Beliefs Called 'Out of Touch'
"I think that responsible Catholics should be able to decide for themselves what they want to do around sexual health and reproductive rights," said Molly O'Gorman, 24, one of the coalition's committee members.
Brought up as a Catholic and educated in Catholic schools, O'Gorman said she felt something missing from the "official line" and that she admired Catholics who took a stand on social justice based on the reality of life. She and 40 others from 16 countries hit the pavement to get the word out in Cologne. The message: The pope has got to listen to the youth and get the church active in terms of AIDS prevention.
O'Gorman believes that most of her peers and many Catholics believe in the use of condoms, which is why she's pushing for change. "I think the church leaders hold views that are out of touch with most Catholics and [they] promote policies that aren't smart," she said. The group has sponsored an ad campaign, "Condoms 4 Life," with the multilingual slogan "Good Catholics Use Condoms" in the Cologne subway to further the coalition's cause
John Paul II founded World Youth Day in 1985 to give young people an opportunity to connect with fellow Catholics in a mass movement of prayer and worship. Pilgrims since then have traveled to capitals around the world to share their beliefs and discuss their faith. World Youth Day organizers expect up to 800,000 youths, 700 bishops and nearly 7,000 priests at the festival-like celebration with people from more than 120 countries.
The new pope, Benedict XVI, welcomed the pilgrims today and will make two other scheduled appearances. This marks the new pontiff's first visit abroad (and to his homeland) since his election following John Paul II's death in April.
Prayer, Not Politics
Sister Anne of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops believes it's shameless to promote an agenda at a religious event. Youth Day allows young adult Catholics to experience the Christian community and broaden their experience, she said, using the words "life changing," and "very dramatic" to describe past attendees' reactions.
O'Gorman stressed that the coalition members didn't chant or harangue passers-by or wear their condom T-shirts inside Cologne's Gothic cathedral. For Sister Anne, regardless of the protest, she believes young Catholics are increasingly accepting and promoting abstinence. She claims there has already been a noticeable change in attitudes about abortion in recent years. "The whole abortion-on-demand concept, if you look at young people, they're not accepting of that perhaps like previous generations before," she said.
Alan Schrek, a theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, agrees. He believes that the current generation of Catholics wants to embrace abstinence despite the pervasiveness of sex in modern society. "It's not true anymore that most Catholic people are buying the contraceptive agenda," Schrek said.
He thinks it's important for a "small minority" to express its opinion, but best to ignore it, saying that the church has legitimate means to combat AIDS and that sex should remain within marriage.
Quoting Pope John Paul II's book called "Love and Responsibility," Loyola College professor of theology Stephen Miles explains that the pope justified the church's traditional stance on sex because it represents a total self-giving on the part of the partners. "Sex for the sake of pleasure is about self-gratification, so it interferes with our efforts to realize our vocation," said Miles.
Humanity's vocation is to give ourselves away according to the pope's writings, he said. Catholicism teaches that sex has two purposes, one of which is to unite with your partner and the other is to have children -- neither excludes pleasure, he adds. "Legitimizing contraception would divide both purposes," said Miles.
What about Catholics who let their libido loose, not following the church's teachings?
Miles calls those people "cafeteria Catholics" in the sense that they take what they agree with and leave the rest behind.
In his view, the church cannot promote the use of contraception because indirectly it would promote nontraditional sex, even if it may stop the spread of AIDS or other sexual diseases.
"The church has an interest in listening to others but it resolves differences through careful study of stricture," Miles said. Catholics have to be very careful bringing interest group mentality into the church, he added. To him the "Catholics for a Free Choice" point of view lacks religious rigor. "If there is to be an argument for contraception, it has to address the teaching of the church and if it does, then the church would have to change teachings."
O'Gorman seems unfazed by the criticism. She said the throngs of people in Cologne, including nuns, have been quite receptive to discussing issues and taking the promotional stuff they've been handing out. However, condoms aren't among the goodies.