USCCB Official Warns of Rise in ‘Polite Persecution’ of Catholic Views on Abortion and Sexuality Internationally

The Biden administration and groups overseas continue to push an ‘LGBT,’ pro-abortion agenda in poor countries.

President Joe Biden arrives to speak with governors on protecting access to abortion at the White House on July 1 in Washington.
President Joe Biden arrives to speak with governors on protecting access to abortion at the White House on July 1 in Washington. (photo: Tasos Katopodis / Getty)

WASHINGTON — During last week’s 2022 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, Lucas Koach, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, warned that in the developing world there’s an impulse “to push for policies that the Church thinks run contrary to the innate human dignity of the human person and attach that to U.S. foreign assistance or other diplomatic levers.” 

Koach spoke on a Heritage Foundation Panel titled “Victims of ‘Polite’ Persecution: Believers Targeted by Secular Abortion and Gender Activists.” The title referenced 2016 remarks by Pope Francis about persecution “disguised as culture, disguised as modernity, disguised as progress.” The Pope called it “polite persecution, when someone is persecuted not for confessing Christ’s name, but for wanting to demonstrate the values of the Son of God.” 

Koach said that policies that are at odds with Church teaching on human dignity “are often framed under the guise of protecting others, such as a mother facing an unwanted pregnancy, or someone who is same-sex attracted or has gender dysphoria, experiencing undue violence or discrimination. So, one may say or can see that this seems well enough intended, and we certainly agree that the vulnerable and marginalized need to be protected.” 

He said the Catholic Church believes, “like so many of our faith traditions have well-articulated, every human being is made in the likeness and image of God and bears inviolable dignity; violence of any kind should be condemned.”

“We begin to see there is a subtle and increasing, and sometimes not so subtle, difference between protecting against violence against all people and endorsing a certain worldview,” Koach said, that “can run contrary to innate human dignity, run contrary to the nature and purpose of the human family. We have seen, increasingly, regimes shift from notions of protection for all to exportations of a worldview that do run contrary to such notions of protection and promote a new understanding of this nature of human person and human sex.”


Push on Gender Ideology

Koach said this push is not new, but “it has been elevated; it has been growing and becoming less veiled.” He referenced the U.S. Agency for International Development’s June 2021 guidelines for “Integrating LGBTI+ Considerations Into Education Programming,” which he said “gives very express guidance to contractors or NGOs who are implementing educational programs [on] how to reorient and reprogram educational materials, to affirm your array of gender ideologies or sexual orientations.” 

The guidelines say to “encourage education institutions to consider updating forms that reference students’ parents to use ‘parent/parent’ or ‘parent/guardian’ as opposed to ‘mother/father’” and that “information on diverse sexual orientations and gender identities should be included in sex education and family-formation curriculums. When sexuality, gender development, and sexual health is taught, educators should endeavor to include content on LGBTQI+ people, diversity, and consent. This content should not be treated separately (or on a different timeline) from other content.”

Koach said “such directives do not comport with a rudimentary understanding of human nature and dignity, and they risk violating the very things we seek to protect, and certainly run contrary to most religions, cultures and traditions which we are seeking to help.” He referenced Pope Francis’ remarks in 2016 about how, “at school, children — children — are taught this: that everyone can choose their sex. And why do we teach this? Because the books are those of the people and institutions that give you the money. These are ideological colonizations, also supported by very influential countries.”

“This is what these communities are facing: They’re trying to feed communities that are on the verge of starvation and chronic food insecurity, dealing with rapidly changing climate,” Koach said, “but there’ll be these types of strings that get attached, and it’s difficult to push against those.”

The U.S. bishops continue to fight against such “ideological colonization” efforts, including in March, when the bishops responded to Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., regarding a letter she sent with 19 House Democrats to the President Guillermo Lasso Mendoza of Ecuador, urging him to expand abortion access, calling it a “human-rights imperative.” 

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote along with Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore that “the greatness of the United States lies ‘especially [in its] respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life in all conditions and at all stages of development,’” quoting Pope St. John Paul II. The bishops added that “your letter is a violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty, constituting, in words Pope Francis has used in similar instances, an ‘ideological colonization’ that seeks to homogenize nations according to an aggressive ‘throwaway culture.’ Furthermore, your position, while widespread, is not universal, here or in Ecuador, as voices in defense of human life and dignity in both countries constantly advocate for the rights of both mothers and their unborn children.”


Abortion in Bolivia

Another country that has felt the influence of outside pressure toward changing abortion laws is Bolivia, where pro-abortion nongovernmental organizations have played a part in making abortion more widely available despite protections for the unborn child in the country’s constitution. 

Dr. Melina Carmona de Romero, a Catholic and the director of the Centro de Ayuda para La Mujer (Women’s Help Center) in La Paz, Bolivia, told those gathered at the religious freedom summit panel in D.C. that “international NGOs pressured the government to approve abortion.”

Carmona told the Register that the people of Bolivia “are poor, and they love the family,” saying that “the farmer people don’t want abortions, but the NGO goes to the farmer and talks with the people and they teach: ‘You need abortion; this is important.’”

She said that under pressure from IPAS, an international pro-abortion lobbying group, and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Constitutional Court in Bolivia issued a 2014 ruling that said for abortion in cases of rape, “the presentation of a complaint will not be required, nor the existence of indictment and formal accusation, let alone a judgment [in order to obtain abortion impunity]. For the woman to access an abortion, her declaration saying that the pregnancy results from a crime will be enough. Thus, the abortion health professional will have express proof to justify the abortion procedure.”

Carmona said this ruling resulted in what was called “legal interruption of pregnancy” in cases of claims of rape or where there is a risk to the life or health of the mother, saying this is “practically unrestricted, free abortion in Bolivia,” as the health-of-the-mother exception is broad enough to include “the biological, mental and/or social health of a woman.” She said there were issues with babies being born alive and left to die in some instances where abortion was performed, as there was no “establishment of a limit regarding the gestational age.” 

She also raised concerns about conscientious objection to abortion, saying that the ombudsman’s office, which is in charge of defending human rights and functions independently of the government, was attempting to initiate criminal action against the directors of hospitals in Tiquipaya and Barrios Mineros de Oruro for declining to perform abortions.

Carmona referenced a case in October, which received international attention, of an 11-year-old rape victim who, she said, did not want to get an abortion but was pressured to do so at 24 weeks by the national ombudsman’s office.

“Feminists accused the episcopal conference of influencing the girl’s decision, when she had not made contact with a delegate of the episcopal conference,” she said. “It was the ombudsman and feminist groups that have permanent access to the minor and her family, exerting enormous pressure to carry out the treatment of abortion.”

Following allegations that the Catholic bishops tried to pressure the girl to keep the baby, the Bolivia’s People’s Ombudsman Nadia Cruz and others from her office led a march where some individuals vandalized the Bolivian bishops’ offices. Víctor Hugo Valda, the bishops’ Delegate for Health of the Archdiocese of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, told ACI Prensa that the Church didn’t interfere or intervene in any way in the girl’s decision.

Catholic News Agency reported that the ombudsman’s office subsequently obtained a court order to have the girl removed from a shelter run by the Archdiocese of Santa Cruz de la Sierra specializing in the care of mothers and adolescent girls. She was taken to a medical center, where labor was induced, and her baby boy, José María, died shortly after, as the center did not have resources for the high-risk delivery of a premature infant. 

Carmona stressed the Catholic Church continues to work in Bolivia to care for poor women in crisis pregnancies. “We don’t have money, but we have a love for life, and we work on many efforts,” she said. But attacks on the Church because of their pro-life work and message are “very strong,” she added, and “the defamation of the Church in Bolivia” by feminist, pro-abortion groups has been occurring frequently in local media.