9 Feb 2011

Catholic sponsored hospitals base access to treatment on religious dogma not medical necessity

Secular News Daily  -  January 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Hospitals

Montgomery County, Maryland, lying just to the northwest of Washington, DC, is one of the richest counties in the nation. Its previously rural northern half has exploded with exurban sprawl in recent years, so much so that state authorities recently concluded it’s time for the region to have a new hospital – the first new county hospital in the past thirty years.

Hospital economics are such that one can’t simply up and build a new one; one has to get a “certificate of need” first, to assure adequate capital and quality. Two principal competitors for the precious certificate emerged. One, an Adventist institution which already has a longtime presence in the southern portion of the county, would provide a complete array of medical services. The other, which also has a longtime presence down-county, would provide a range of services limited by the theology of its sponsor, the Catholic Church.

Guess who won? Hint: there are way more Catholics than Adventists in Maryland.

I have no hard evidence that politics played an improper role in the decision of the commission awarding the $202 million project to the Catholic bidder. Certainly, the Adventist bid had politicians on its side – in fact, 12 state legislators representing the area publicly supported the Adventists. I do know, though, that the new Catholic hospital will refuse to provide tubal ligation, hormonal contraception services, and many kinds of fertility treatment, because the Catholic Church says God is against all that. If a pregnant woman in the Catholic hospital suffers from life-threatening complications, its management will let her die rather than perform an abortion, even if it is certain that her fetus is doomed as well. Men seeking vasectomies will also have to look elsewhere.

This is not just speculation. The Washington Post reported that:

In Texas, a Catholic bishop made two hospitals cease doing tube-tying operations for women who are not going to have more babies. In Oregon, another bishop cast a medical center out of his diocese for refusing to discontinue the same procedure. In Arizona, a nun was excommunicated and the hospital where she works was expelled from the church after 116 years for allowing doctors to terminate a pregnancy to save a woman’s life.

Are those just isolated instances, unlikely to be repeated? Nope. The Arizona case, which I wrote about last May, was reviewed and commended by a bishops’ committee chaired by Archbishop Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington itself, where the new hospital will be located. Wuerl was then promptly made a Cardinal.


What about vaccination? When vaccination for smallpox was developed in the 18th century, the Catholic theologians of the Sorbonne pondered it at length, then pronounced it sinful. God sends smallpox to punish the wicked, they reasoned, and man would be presumptuous to interfere. Smallpox vaccination was flatly prohibited in the territories of central Italy controlled by the Pope until he was deposed from the temporal power in 1870. As late as 1885, when a smallpox epidemic broke out in Montreal, the Protestant community was largely spared because it was vaccinated. But the Catholic population was decimated, because the priests insisted that vaccination was sinful. Abbé Filiatrault declared that “If we are afflicted with smallpox, it is because we had a carnival last winter, feasting the flesh, which has offended the Lord; . . . it is to punish our pride that God has sent us smallpox.”

Though the Church grudgingly came around on smallpox vaccination, today quite a few Catholic God experts oppose a new vaccine that reduces women’s risk of contracting cervical cancer, a sexually transmitted disease. Cancer is seen as one of God’s punishments for committing sex; reducing that risk might result in more sex, a victory for the devil. I have no idea whether the cervical cancer vaccine will be banned at the new hospital or not – that’s up to the whim of Cardinal Wuerl.

Catholic hospitals have been inextricably linked with politics for a long time. In mid-20th century Quebec, strongman Maurice Duplessis maintained himself in power for decades by leaning on the Church to provide cut-rate educational and medical services, so that he could devote tax money to infrastructure contractors who gave his party massive kickbacks. The cheap school and hospital services were provided courtesy of thousands of women brainwashed into the belief that living as nuns, on a bare subsistence level, would earn them brownie points in the next world.

In the United States, Catholic hospitals used their economic clout to support the Church’s political agenda. When Massachusetts held a referendum campaign to liberalize the laws against condoms in 1947, the Catholic hospital in Springfield fired four Protestant and two Jewish gynecologists from its staff for favoring a revision in the law. In neighboring Connecticut, six more non-Catholic doctors were fired that year for supporting a bill in the legislature to the same effect.

The Ultimate Catholic Hospital

The most fascinating Catholic hospital of all was the one that operated for many years at Lourdes, the French village where in 1858 an illiterate shepherdess named Bernadette Soubirous claimed she saw visions of the Virgin Mary. The civil authorities in the town did not find her tale credible and sought to downplay it, but orders came down from the Emperor Napoleon himself – then anxious to placate politically powerful Catholics – to throw open the site to all pilgrims who wanted to come.

Soon the little village was inundated with visitors, many of them desperately ill and seeking a miracle cure. The worst cases were sent to the Hospital of Our Lady of Dolours, which was crammed to several times its capacity, with mattresses covering every available inch of floor space. What made this hospital special was that it had no doctors, and no medicine. The Church was intent on proving that the waters of Lourdes worked miracle cures, and with scientific rigor sought to exclude all possible alternative explanations for patients who left the village in better shape than they arrived.

Émile Zola’s 1894 novel Lourdes paints a vivid picture of the Hospital of Our Lady of Dolours, of the baths where patients lined up to be immersed in the same holy water where the microbes of hundreds of other sufferers had been rinsed off earlier in the day, and of the “Verification Office” where the doctors who were not tending the sick debated the merits of individual claims of cure. Though Zola was a strong secularist, he did not dispute that something unusual was in fact occurring at Lourdes, at least in a small minority of cases.

Forces as yet but imperfectly studied, of which one was even ignorant, were certainly at work – autosuggestion, long prepared disturbance of the nerves; the inspiriting influence of the journey, the prayers, and the hymns; and especially the healing breath, the unknown force which was evolved from the multitude, in the acute crisis of faith. Thus it seemed to him anything but intelligent to believe in trickery. The facts were both of a much more lofty and much more simple nature. … The desire to be healed did heal; the thirst for a miracle worked the miracle.

Studies today confirm Zola’s insight; placebos actually work, a startling percentage of the time.

If the new Montgomery County Catholic hospital survives a likely court challenge, it will have doctors and medicines. Indeed, the down-county hospital it is affiliated with has an excellent reputation, at least for the limited range of services it provides. But aside from the shabby treatment of women, there is the huge looming problem with government allowing the proliferation of Catholic hospitals where a plausible alternative exists.

Suppose that in some civilized country where the Christian right doesn’t micromanage government funding of medical research, they figure out a way to use embryonic stem cells to start treating all kinds of conditions, from paralysis to blindness. Stem cells have the potential, according to some, to revolutionize the entire practice of medicine. But will such stem cell therapies be available in a Catholic hospital? The answer will be up to the changeable whim of the future Catholic hierarchy; from the virulence of their rhetoric against embryonic stem cell research to date, though, it appears likely that the answer will be “No.” Up-county residents will have to go elsewhere for their treatment – defeating the whole purpose of building a new hospital there in the first place. Why, other than sheer power politics, would a government sanction this?

Related articles on Secualar News Daily:

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The Trial of the Catholic Church: A Tale of Moral and Financial Bankruptcy

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Phoenix bishop immediately excommunicates another priest for "grave offense" of ordaining woman, but child abusers are protected

Bishops' criticisms: Prophetic or pointless?

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  1. Why the Pope Hates Nuns

    By Adele M. Stan, AlterNet June 1, 2012

    In 1979, Sister Theresa Kane was given a very special task. As president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group for most orders of U.S. Catholic nuns, Kane was asked to deliver four minutes of welcoming remarks, on behalf of American sisters, to the newly elected Pope John Paul II during his first papal visit to the United States. At a gathering inside the grand church in Washington, D.C., known as the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Kane offered the pope a warm greeting, and then launched into this:

    As I share this privileged moment with you, Your Holiness, I urge you to be mindful of the intense suffering and pain which is part of the life of many women in these United States. I call upon you to listen with compassion and to hear the call of women...As women, we have heard the powerful messages of our church addressing the dignity [of] and reverence for all persons. As women, we have pondered these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the church, in its struggle to be true to its call to reverence and dignity for all persons, must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of the church."

    All ministries -- including, of course, the priesthood. Her meaning was not lost on the pope or, it seems, his henchmen in cassocks.

    Chief among the new pope's enforcers was Joseph Ratzinger, the bishop from Bavaria, whom, three years later, JPII would appoint to the position of prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine the Faith, an entity once known as the Roman Inquisition. As prefect, Ratzinger soon had his Congregation all but living up to its historical inquisitive reputation as he conducted a jihad against liberal bishops, clerics and nuns in the U.S., and around the world. Today, the former prefect is known as Pope Benedict the XVI, still an enforcer, and one with a long memory.

    On April 28, nearly 33 years after Theresa Kane's unprecedented challenge to the pope, the Vatican delivered a verdict against LCWR, the nuns' group led by Kane in 1979: Its members were defying Catholic doctrine, Vatican investigators said, by promoting "radical feminist themes," as well as contradicting church teaching on homosexuality and the no-girls-allowed priesthood. Further, as Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times reported it, "The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that 'disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals.'"

    As punishment, Cardinal William Levada, who now occupies Ratzinger's old job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee LCWR for up to five years, giving him final say on every speaker at the group's conference and every public utterance made in its name. He'll also revise LCWR's governing statues and oversee the revision of a handbook that, according to the Times, was "used to facilitate dialogue on matters that the Vatican said should be settled doctrine." Links between LCWR and two liberal Catholic groups will also be investigated.

    Speaking on CBS This Morning [video] last week, Sister Maureen Fiedler, host of the public radio program, Interfaith Voices, said, "If this were the corporate world, I think we'd call it a hostile takeover."

    On Friday, in an unprecedented act of defiance, the LCWR board, after a week of meetings in Maryland on how to respond to both the Vatican crackdown, issued a statement of its members' intention to contest the hierarchy's takeover of their organization. It reads, in part:

    Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.

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    Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.

    The sisters said that LCWR President Sister Pat Farrell and Executive Director Sister Janet Mock would travel to Rome to take up these concerns with the prefect and the bishop he appointed to rule over the sisters, and would then consult with the organization's general membership in August. One option the organization could choose is to disassociate with Rome altogether and reconfigure itself as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, according to its Web site, "has approximately 1500 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, representing approximately 80% of the 57,000 Catholic sisters in the United States."

    Theologian Mary E. Hunt, co-director of the Catholic feminist resource center, WATER, told me in a telephone interview from her office in Silver Spring, Md., that the Vatican set its sights on LCWR because, as an organization that is part of the church structure, its members are "canonically vulnerable" -- meaning that they are subject to the law of the hierarchy, known as canon law, as interpreted by its appointed enforcers. Should the group dissolve itself and incorporate as a non-profit, it need only operate within the bounds of U.S. law, under which the religious freedom of its members is guaranteed under the First Amendment.

    A Cult of Power

    When examined in combination with the recent tantrum taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over the birth control mandate in the health-care reform law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, Pope Benedict's crusade against the nuns would seem to render the Roman curia and the bishops, above all other things, a cult of misogyny. But that would be too simple a reading. At its heart, the church hierarchy is a cult of power; misogyny is but one tool for the already powerful to ensure that power remains in their possession.

    One need only look at the current scandal engulfing the Vatican over dealings at the Vatican bank, and an internecine battle waged by partisans and enemies of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Last week, the pope's own butler was arrested for allegedly having leaked confidential papal correspondence and documents to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of a just-released book about Pope Benedict.

    Then there's the recently revealed pay-offs doled out by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while he served as Archbishop of Milwaukee, to priests accused of abusing children who agreed not to contest their own defrocking.

    The campaign to discredit Bertone is believed to be orchestrated by partisans of his predecessor, who want Bertone out of the way before Benedict dies, in order to prevent him from presiding over the conclave that will elect the next pope. In Dolan's case, he used payouts as a means of preserving his own power while serving as Archbishop of Milwaukee, by getting troublesome priests out of the way. (It seems to have worked; Dolan is now the cardinal archbishop of New York.) Dolan's payola scheme, of course, is but one tiny aspect of the enormous and shameful disaster the hierarchy brought upon itself by covering up the crimes against children committed by more than a few priests over the course of decades -- all in an effort to preserve its own power by maintaining a false appearance of propriety that put countless children at risk.

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    Writing at Religion Dispatches, Mary Hunt contends that the Vatican's attack on the nuns isn't simply about nuns -- or women. It's about the laity -- keeping the people of the church from actually claiming them the power granted them during the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and maintaining the power of the clerics. "The effort to rein in LCWR is meant as much to scare the rest of us into line as to corral the nuns," Hunt writes.

    This isn't this first time that the Vatican has sought to silence U.S. nuns. In one famous case, 24 sisters were threatened with expulsion from their orders for having signed a statementthat asserted "a diversity of views" on the subject of abortion existed within the church, including the belief that abortion could sometimes be a moral choice. The ad was sponsored by Catholics for Choice, then under the leadership of Frances Kissling. Cardinal Ratzinger presided over the inquisition.

    But this time is different, Hunt contends, because of the role played by nuns in the passage of Affordable Care Act, the health-care reform law initiated by the Obama administration and signed by the president. When the bishops, via the USCCB, sought to to block the legislation, largely because of measures that dealt with coverage of women's reproductive health issues, the administration turned to Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, which represents some 600 Catholic hospitals and 1400 health-care facilities. When Keehan backed the bill, she lent a Catholic imprimatur to the administration's much-contested hallmark piece of law. After Obama signed the bill, he sent Keehan one of the ceremonial signing pens he used to make the bill a law. Keehan's defiance was compounded when a coalition of U.S. nuns penned a letter supporting the law that was signed by leaders of 55 religious orders and umbrella groups, including the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. .

    Earlier this year, Sister Keehan stepped up again, when, after the administration announced that Catholic institutions would not be exempt from the law's mandate to employers that their health insurance plans fully cover patients' contraceptive costs, and do so without demanding a co-payment from the patient. After the predictable outcry from the bishops, the administration offered an "accommodation" requiring health insurance companies to pick up the tab for the conception coverage, and Keehan gave her approval.

    Nuns Defy Bishops on Health Care; Bishops Cry Foul on 'Religious Freedom'

    In choosing the nuns to provide a stamp of Catholic approval for both the health-care law itself and the contraception "accommodation," the Obama administration acted on a calculation that the bishops' hard-core position against contraception and abortion under any circumstances was not supported by the majority of American Catholics, whose views are more in line with those represented by the nuns. The administration's concern was winning buy-in from Catholic lay people -- the voters -- and its legislative strategists knew that the moral imprimatur of the nuns would go a long way to that end. But in executing its strategy, the administration dared to do what no other before it had: expose the powerlessness -- the impotence, if you will -- of the hierarchy when faced with the will of what the church reform documents of Vatican II called "the people of God." The bishops, and presumably the pope, were not amused.

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    While it's true that the Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious began nearly four years ago, the timing of the Vatican's announcement of its "hostile takeover" of LCWR coincides with the launching of a barrage of lawsuits against the administration by the bishops and Catholic entities challenging the requirement that all health insurance companies contracted for employer-provided health plans offer contraceptive coverage to the insured, and with no co-payment by the patient. This requirement applies to virtually all employer-provided health plans, including those that cover the employees of Catholic hospitals, universities and other institutions. The timing of the Vatican attack on the nuns also aligns with the timing of a public relations offensive by the bishops that frames the contraceptive mandate as an infringement of religious liberty -- an offensive that includes a heretofore unprecedented attempt at overt political organizing by the clerics for what they're calling a "Fortnight for Freedom," spanning from June 21, which commences the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, through to July 4th.

    Sarah Posner, writing at Religion Dispatches, reports:

    Fusing the martyrdom of Catholic saints with Independence Day, the Bishops write, "Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power . . . . Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty."

    All of this will of course come to a head as the general election campaign is heating up over the summer months. The Bishops urge commemoration of "resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty" and call on "an immense number of writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers, and bloggers employing all the means of communications—both old and new media—to expound and teach the faith. They too have a critical role in this great struggle for religious liberty. We call upon them to use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom."

    The irony here is that a good part of the problem the Vatican and the bishops are having with their American nuns and parishioners is, in fact, their very Americanness. For the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Rome, its American flock, as it assimilated into the greater American culture, became increasingly troublesome. American Catholics, often enthusiastic in their patriotism, are, in reality, subject to two different and contradictory faiths: the American civic religion of liberty, individualism and participatory democracy, and the Roman tradition of collective submission to ecclesiastical authority. As time has passed, the American religion in many ways came to surpass the faith tradition of their ancestors in terms of forming a primary set of values. Roman Catholicism, for many, is more a subcultural identity than a daily practice of the rules and rituals mandated by the magisterium.

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    American Catholics have long flouted the popes' prohibition on the use of birth control, and are not inclined, as a bloc, to be moved by the bishops' complaint of liberty infringed -- especially when the liberty the bishops claim for themselves is the right to deprive a class of people, who represent half of world's population, of a fundmental aspect of health care particular to that class -- a class that is deemed unworthy by the bishops for admission into their ranks, by dint of the shape their bodies take at birth. Although sexism still thrives in the United States, the average American, even the average American sexist, does not generally classify it as one of the precious religious freedoms for which Americans should lay down their lives.

    In the years leading up to the sex-abuse scandal that has gripped the church for more than a decade, many American Catholics viewed the bishops and the popes as simply out of touch with the modern world in matters of sexuality, especially on the reproductive front. But since the scandal, the bishops find themselves widely discredited as it became known that so many were aware of the sexually predatory behavior of some priests toward minors, and acted to cover up the crimes of those clerics. One such bishop was William Levada, who served as archbishop of San Francisco and Portland, Ore., and is now the Vatican prefect in charge of the nuns' persecution.

    The nuns, on the other hand, have only grown in moral stature since Vatican II in the eyes of many Catholics, as they seriously implemented the council's mandate to go out into the world and do good works. Today, the most visible Catholic advocates for social and economic justice are often nuns, who work with the poor and minister to the sick. They are, by and large, better educated than the bishops who would rule them, and are consequently often more articulate in expressing their work in the context of their religious values, which they commonly frame in terms of the Gospel's calls to work for justice and healing, rather than as demands for obedience to a power structure whose princes preach adherence to a set of rules that is, at once, cruel and absurd.

    Is it any wonder then, that when the Vatican condemned LCWR for, as the New York Times' Laurie Goodstein http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/19/us/vatican-reprimands-us-nuns-group.html reported, "for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping 'silent' on abortion and same-sex marriage," Catholic across the country expressed outrage in demonstrations that took place in some 50 cities?

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    Vatican Inc.

    When Sister Maureen Fiedler described the Vatican's action in the language of big business, she wasn't just being clever. According to Mary Hunt, the Vatican's power structure is very similar to that of a corporation, while the structure of the U.S. coalition of women's religious orders function more on the model of your local food co-op -- very process-oriented and deliberative. Speaking of the Vatican, she told AlterNet: "This is a business, where people do what people do in business."

    But with the scandal currently gripping Rome over the pope's leaked correspondence and problems with transparency at the Vatican Bank, and the worldwide disaster of the sexual abuse claims against priests and the bishops who harbored them, Vatican Inc. seems to be treading the path of Lehman Brothers and Enron. The sexual abuse debacle has led to the bankrupting of two archdioceses in the U.S., under the burden of settlements made to victims: Milwaukee, less than two years after Cardinal Dolan became Archbishop of New York, and Portland, Oregon, under the leadership of Cardinal Levada. Such was Levada's brutality, in fact, that he punished a priest who reported a child-abusing fellow priest to the police -- a move that came back to haunt him when the whistle-blower, Father Jon Conley, brought a defamation case against the archdiocese after paving the way for the family of an abused child to win a $750,000 settlement from the archdiocese. (Politics Daily contributor Jason Berry told the sordid tale here in 2010.)

    Now head of the church in the city once described by Pope John Paul II as "the capital of the world," Cardinal Dolan is among those charged with making the case for the bishops bogus claim of religious persecution by the U.S. government. But as the U.S. bishops mount their "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign (perhaps better named "Fortnight of Fury"), the Vatican stock would appear to be tanking.

    "Roman Catholicism, in its institutional form, is imploding," Hunt told AlterNet.

    Some might see in that implosion a divine act of creative destruction. For without the institution, what remains of the church could be simply the "people of God." And in the Gospel of Matthew, that's pretty much how Jesus defined the church.

    In its statement, the LCWR board asserted:

    [The board] believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.
    Read the Vatican document condemning the Leadership Conference of Women Religioushere [PDF].

    To view the numerous embedded links in this article go to:


  7. Not Satisfied With Attacking Nuns, Catholic Bishops Go After Girl Scouts

    By Mary E. Hunt, Religion Dispatches June 4, 2012

    The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is having a Saturday Night Live moment. Emboldened by the Vatican's hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the gentlemen have shown their prowess by choosing to investigate the Girl Scouts of the USA. Which would be comical -- first the nuns, now the Girl Scouts -- if the goal were not so pernicious and the outcome so damaging, especially to the bishops.

    The tactics against the girls and the women are taken from one playbook, the goal of intimidation is the same, and the pushback in both cases is distracting from more pressing problems at hand. Still, you wonder who does their public relations, as the bishops are now about as popular as a recession.

    The apparent goal of this exercise of "investigating" gender female persons is to set up and enforce a male-defined model of girlhood/womanhood. A Vatican-, or in this case, USCCB-launched investigation is what Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, calls the equivalent of a grand jury investigation. There is the presumption that something is wrong, not something right, that there is guilt to be uncovered, not virtue to be unleashed. What is wrong seems to be women and girls thinking for themselves and acting for the common good.

    What boggles the mind is why the Roman Catholic Church would be so presumptuous as to investigate what does not belong to it. Granted, some Scout troops meet at Catholic churches, but that does not make them Catholic entities any more than the Alcoholics Anonymous group that meets in the same basement. In the case of the Scouts, the supposed connections with groups that support reproductive justice are, for the most part, links to websites where girls can find further information on issues, hardly a ringing endorsement of the groups' missions. Sex education is not an integral part of scouting; that is something left to families. What is really at issue here is that women and girls involved in the Girl Scouts do not ask permission of ecclesial men to live as responsible citizens of a global world.

    Girl Scouts USA belongs to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, about ten million strong in 145 countries. In a July 2012 conference in Chicago, WAGGGS will discuss the UN Millennium Development Goals. Those include the elimination of poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and malaria, environmental sustainability, and the development of a global partnership for development, a blueprint for just living in the 21st century. The Episcopal Church USA adopted a resolution at its 74th General Convention to support the goals. Perhaps they will be investigated next.

    The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is hardly leaving the Girl Scouts quaking in their boots. Their reasoned and patient replies to accusations that they shouldn't have to answer demonstrate their mission: "Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place." Would that the bishops follow suit.

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    Several parallels with the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious lay bare the playbook here. The LCWR "doctrinal investigation" was Rome-based, undertaken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Girl Scout "investigation" is U.S.-based sleuthing led by the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth chaired by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. Both cases are based on long-term reporting by conservative Catholics, both lay and clerical, of the groups' supposed sins. This is a cottage industry that includes the Eternal Word Television Network and random ecclesial busybodies who apparently report to Rome and to the USCCB on a regular basis.

    What mystifies me is that with all of the economic, racial, and war-related issues at hand the bishops still choose to take on these girls and women. Gone are the days when governments, businesses, and armies worried much about what the bishops had to say. Here are the days when disgraced bishops are deposed and indicted for the sexual crimes and cover-ups that have come to define contemporary Catholicism. By contrast, nuns and Girl Scouts are powerful symbols and equally powerful advocates for justice and peace. So in a sense the bishops have really taken on those who are shaping the culture.

    The bishops fretted in both cases about sex and gender, especially reproductive justice. The straw that broke the camel's back for the nuns was the support some of them showed for a more inclusive health care policy. For the Scouts, it was the organization's public acceptance of a transgender child into a Colorado troop. Underneath those decisions lurks the fact that nuns, not bishops, were seen as normatively Catholic, and even though a quarter of all Girl Scouts are Catholic, they didn't consult the bishops before doing the right thing. Who would, given the men's handling of abuse cases?

    In each instance, the Roman Catholic Church is backing a concrete alternative. For the LCWR, the kowtowing Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious is already canonically chartered and accepting members. For those who find the Girl Scouts too rich for their blood, there are the multi-religious American Heritage Girls and the Little Flowers Girls' Club already in place. These groups function much like the Girl Scouts and Brownies they seek to replace but with far more explicit conservative ideology.

    Curiously, for a church that tends to keep pubescent people in single-sex groups, another alternative is Venturing, a youth development program sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America for girls and boys age 14-21. The Boy Scouts are an avowedly anti-gay group that demands faith in God, not in just any higher power. The Girl Scouts modified their pledge several years ago to accommodate growing religious pluralism.

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    The investigations are meant in large part to intimidate since they really don't have much of a direct impact. Intimidation happens in small ways -- a few nuns self-censor, the leaders of the Girl Scouts redact a few publications. But just as most nuns are going about their business undaunted, the Girl Scouts will gather 100,000+ strong for "Girl Scouts Rock the Mall" in Washington DC on the 9th of June. They hope to set a world record for the biggest sing-along in history. Their new theme song says it all: "Girl Scout ignite a dream, ignite your hope, ignite the world on fire." Now that ought to be enough to make the bishops tremble in unison. The contrast between the girls and "the big boys" will be vivid that day.

    My favorite local troop just got back from a horseback-riding overnight. They have cleaned up a local park and planted trees near the Chesapeake Bay. They took in a women's basketball game and donned period costumes to guide visitors at a C and O Canal park in Washington, D.C. For the international Girl Scout Thinking Day, when troops learn about girls in other countries, this group studied Liberia where Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 with Tawakul Karman of Yemen. They are preparing to be good citizens and leaders of a globalized world that the bishops can scarcely imagine.

    The crowd on the Mall in Washington will be festive on this the 100th anniversary of the group's founding by Juliette Gordon Low. They have reason to celebrate. Just as women's religious congregations have empowered countless women, the Girl Scouts, founded by a woman whose estranged husband left the bulk of his estate to his mistress, have instilled "courage, confidence and character" in millions of girls. God knows they need it in the current culture where women's well being is threatened on many sides.

    I expect to see some nuns, former nuns, and friends of nuns on the Mall that day when I lift my voice as a former Girl Scout. History will record that in 2012 the Girl Scouts and nuns were living values the bishops could only mouth while they searched in vain for condoms in the cookie boxes.

    Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., is a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, Md. A Roman Catholic active in the women-church movement, she lectures and writes on theology and ethics with particular attention to liberation issues.


  10. Is Pleasure a Sin?

    By MAUREEN DOWD, New York Times June 5, 2012

    It’s hard to say what is weirder:

    A Sister of Mercy writing about the Kama Sutra, sexual desire and “our yearnings for pleasure.”

    Or the Vatican getting so hot and bothered about the academic treatise on sexuality that the pope censures it, causing it to shoot from obscurity to the top tier of Amazon.com’s best-seller list six years after it was published.

    Just the latest chapter in the Vatican’s thuggish crusade to push American nuns — and all Catholic women — back into moldy subservience.

    Even for a church that moves glacially, this was classic. “Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” by Sister Margaret Farley — a 77-year-old professor emeritus at Yale’s Divinity School, a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and an award-winning scholar — came out in 2006.

    The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which seems as hostile to women as the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, spent years pondering it, then censured it on March 30 but didn’t publicly release the statement until Monday.

    The denunciation of Sister Farley’s book is based on the fact that she deals with the modern world as it is. She refuses to fall in line with a Vatican rigidly clinging to an inbred, illusory world where men rule with no backtalk from women, gays are deviants, the divorced can’t remarry, men and women can’t use contraception, masturbation is a grave disorder and celibacy is enshrined, even as a global pedophilia scandal rages.

    In old-fashioned prose steeped in historical and global perspective, Sister Farley’s main argument is that justice needs to govern relationships. In the interest of justice to oneself, she contends that “self-pleasuring” needs “to be moved out of the realm of taboo morality.”

    Immanuel Kant, who considered masturbation “below the level of animals,” must give way to Alfred Kinsey. “It is surely the case that many women, following the ‘our bodies our selves’ movement in the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, have found great good in self-pleasuring — perhaps especially in the discovery of their own possibilities for pleasure — something many had not experienced or even known about in their ordinary sexual relations with husbands or lovers,” she writes. “In this way, it could be said that masturbation actually serves relationships rather than hindering them.”

    A breath of fresh air in the stultifying church, she makes the case for same-sex relationships and remarriage after divorce. “When it truly becomes impossible to sustain a marriage relationship, the obligation to do so is released,” she writes, adding, “as when in the Middle Ages a broken leg made it impossible to continue on a pilgrimage to which one had committed oneself.”

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    Taking on the Council of Trent and a church that has taken a stand against pleasure, Sister Farley asserts that procreation is not the only reason couples should have sex. Fruitfulness need not “refer only to the conceiving of children,” she writes. “It can refer to multiple forms of fruitfulness in love of others, care for others, making the world a better place for others” rather than just succumbing to “an égoisme à deux.”

    The Vatican showed no mercy to the Sister of Mercy, proclaiming that “the deliberate use of the sexual faculty” outside of marriage or procreation, or on one’s own, is wrong; that homosexual sex acts are “deviant,” and that marriages are by and large indissoluble. Sister Farley issued a statement that she did not intend for the book to be an expression or criticism of current official Catholic teaching, and academics and the head of her order rushed to her defense.

    This latest ignoble fight with a noble nun adds to the picture of a Catholic Church in a permanent defensive crouch, steeped in Borgia-like corruption and sexual scandals, lashing out at anyone who notes the obvious: They have lost track of right and wrong.

    Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York blasted The New York Times after Laurie Goodstein wrote that, as the archbishop of Milwaukee in 2003, he authorized payments of up to $20,000 to sexually abusive priests “as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood.”

    Cardinal Dolan insisted through a spokesman that it was “charity,” not “payoffs.” But if you were the parent of a boy abused by a priest who went away with 20,000 bucks, maybe “charity” is not the word that would come to mind.

    Its crisis has made the church cruel. The hierarchy should read Sister Farley’s opprobrium against adults harming vulnerable children and adolescents by sexually exploiting them; respect for the individual and requirement of free consent, she says, mean that rape, violence and pedophilia against unwilling victims are never justified.

    “Seduction and manipulation of persons who have limited capacity for choice because of immaturity, special dependency, or loss of ordinary power, are ruled out,” she writes.

    If only the church could muster that kind of clarity, rather than Dolan-style “charity.”


  12. Health-care humbug: Religious freedom rallies threaten religious freedom

    by: Joseph L. Conn June 8, 2012

    Look for another round of “religious freedom” protests in cities around the country today. Aggressive right-wing religious lobbies are purportedly organizing “Stand Up” rallies to stop “the unjust violation of our religious liberty by the Obama Administration’s contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs mandate.”

    It’s all baloney, of course.

    The Catholic bishops and their Religious Right allies, in fact, are waging war on religious liberty and its constitutional corollary, the separation of church and state. They are demanding that federal health-care policy conform to their religious dictates.

    The Obama administration insists that all Americans have access to birth control services through their insurance plans. There’s nothing wrong with that. Ninety-eight percent of women who are sexually active use birth control at some point in their lives.

    To implement this policy, the administration is asking all employers to make sure their insurance plans include contraceptive services. But to satisfy religious objections, houses of worship are exempt from the mandate. And employees of religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals and colleges would get birth control services directly from insurance companies at no cost to the religious employers.

    This isn’t good enough for the Catholic hierarchy and the Religious Right, of course. So they’re out in the public square pretending their religious liberty is at risk. Some bishops are even comparing themselves to Martin Luther King Jr. and hinting darkly that they may have to engage in civil disobedience and go to jail.

    The bishops also claim the administration is not talking with them in good faith about their concerns, so that’s why they had to file a series of lawsuits challenging the birth control mandate.

    Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, suggests the Obama administration can’t be trusted to follow through on proposals to protect the church’s religious liberty interests.

    “These ideas are being thrown around,” she told The Washington Post, “but it would be foolish to sit around like Little Mary Sunshine and hope things change.’’

    Trust me, Sister, nobody is ever going to mistake you for Little Mary Sunshine. Walsh may be the only nun in America who thinks the all-male Catholic hierarchy is always on the right track about everything.

    So what’s really going on here? In short, the lust for money and political power is driving this movement.

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    The bishops are alarmed that lucrative federal contracts and grants are at risk under the Obama administration. The hierarchy and its charities get millions in government subsidies and they fear that the largess might disappear if administration officials insist that all contractors follow public policy, not religious law, in carrying out programs.

    The bishops’ recently lost a $19 million, five-year contract with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help victims of sex trafficking because they refused to provide reproductive care – or even referrals – for vulnerable women, as the government rules mandated.

    Heavens! If this keeps up, the hierarchy might have to turn to its parishioners, not the taxpayers, to pick up the tab for its religiously rigid social services. And a lot of money is at stake. HHS spokesperson Marrianne McMullen told CNN last year that HHS alone has awarded $650 million to Catholic social service agencies over the last three years.

    No wonder the bishops are turning up the heat across the board to make sure the Obama administration doesn’t cancel any more contracts. And if the White House refuses to cave, the bishops want someone else living there.

    It’s impossible to see the bishops’ crusade, aided by the ever-partisan Religious Right, as anything but an election-year crusade to bring Obama to his knees or kick him out of office.

    It’s the 21st century and we live in a nation that supposedly separates church and state, but this whole thing has a whiff of the Dark Ages about it.

    Americans overwhelmingly approve of birth control, and a clear majority thinks reproductive services should be a benefit of health insurance. In a secular democracy, who gets to decide public policy – the people or aggressive religious lobbies?

    Joseph L. Conn is the Director of Communications of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.


  14. Calgary bishop’s HPV vaccine ban putting thousands of girls at risk: MDs

    Jen Gerson, National Post June 26, 2012

    Staring down the edict of a Calgary bishop who says the HPV vaccine contributes to promiscuity, a newly formed advocacy group is pushing Roman Catholic schools to allow students to be immunized against the sexually transmitted virus.

    Calgary is the only major city in Canada with a publicly funded school board that withholds the vaccine on religious grounds, the group says. This puts the thousands of girls in the city and southern Alberta at risk of cervical cancer.

    The activists, who include ethicists and doctors, have formed HPV Calgary in an attempt to strong-arm the Calgary Catholic School District into allowing vaccinations in Grades 5 and 9 with other routine shots.

    After more than a year of correspondence with the school board, they went public Monday and are calling on trustees to discuss the issue by Saturday.

    “In the letters from the physicians to the trustees, the word ‘children’ is used three times at least per letter. In the letters of response from the trustees they use the word ‘bishop’ three times per letter,” said Juliet Guichon, an assistant professor in community health sciences at the University of Calgary.

    “They have delegated their decision making to a non-elected official without expertise in evidence-based medicine or public health.”

    The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, called Gardasil, prevents the four strains of the sexually transmitted virus that most commonly lead to cervical cancer.

    Social conservatives oppose the vaccine, arguing it promotes promiscuity and implicitly condones premarital sex.

    In 2007, Ottawa provided a grant so that school-aged girls could be vaccinated for free; Alberta followed suit. But at least eight religious boards in the province still bar the vaccine from being administered on school grounds. Outside the province, only two school boards are believed to have taken such a stance.

    Dr. Ian Mitchell, a professor of pediatrics and a bioethicist with the University of Calgary, said HPV Calgary tried to present the latest evidence supporting the vaccine to the board, with no success.

    “If you are an immigrant, if you are not so affluent, if you don’t have a car, if you’re very dependent on an hourly wage, it is very unlikely that you’ll get immunization,” he said. “So we saw this decision by the Catholic school board as affecting all children, but really affecting the most vulnerable children.”

    The resistance can be traced to a 2008 edict from Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary and other Alberta bishops.

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    In addition to a letter from Alberta Health Services providing information about Gardasil and where to get vaccinated, Catholic school students were sent home with a letter from the six bishops advising parents to protect their children from “counterproductive influences and potential abuse.”

    “Although school-based immunization delivery systems generally result in high numbers of students completing immunization, a school-based approach to vaccination sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed, as long as one uses ‘protection,’ ” it said.

    Not every school board agrees. After the Edmonton Catholic board allowed girls at its schools to be vaccinated, nearly 70% of them took up the offer. By comparison, the rate among girls in Calgary’s Catholic schools is 18.9%.

    Federal health officials had once hoped as many as 90% of girls would be vaccinated. Results have so far been lacklustre: Ottawa has the highest rate, with 75% of eligible girls receiving the first of three doses during the 2010-11 school year.

    Mary Martin, chairwoman of the Catholic board in Calgary, said students receive information about where they can get the vaccine outside school.

    “The overarching concern or issue here is that anything we do within our Catholic schools have to be congruent with the teachings of our church,” she said. “At the end of the day [we’re providing] a faith-based education that is in alignment with the direction of the Alberta bishops.”

    Vaccination advocates said studies have found no correlation between the HPV vaccine and increased promiscuity.

    “What we see anecdotally is that the children don’t jump into bed, they go out for recess. It’s hard to debate this because it’s not grounded in evidence or rationality,” Ms. Guichon said.

    Further, it’s possible to contract HPV through sexual assault and abuse, she added.


  16. In malpractice case, Catholic hospital argues fetuses aren’t people

    Lawsuit against Catholic Health Initiatives appealed to Colorado Supreme Court

    By John Tomasic The Colorado Independent January 23, 2013

    Lori Stodghill was 31-years old, seven-months pregnant with twin boys and feeling sick when she arrived at St. Thomas More hospital in Cañon City on New Year’s Day 2006. She was vomiting and short of breath and she passed out as she was being wheeled into an examination room. Medical staff tried to resuscitate her but, as became clear only later, a main artery feeding her lungs was clogged and the clog led to a massive heart attack. Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who also happened to be the obstetrician on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page. His patient died at the hospital less than an hour after she arrived and her twins died in her womb.

    In the aftermath of the tragedy, Stodghill’s husband Jeremy, a prison guard, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of himself and the couple’s then-two-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Staples should have made it to the hospital, his lawyers argued, or at least instructed the frantic emergency room staff to perform a caesarian-section. The procedure likely would not have saved the mother, a testifying expert said, but it may have saved the twins.

    The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

    The directives can complicate business deals for Catholic Health, as they can for other Catholic health care providers, partly by spurring political resistance. In 2011, the Kentucky attorney general and governor nixed a plan in which Catholic Health sought to merge with and ultimately gain control of publicly funded hospitals in Louisville. The officials were reacting to citizen concerns that access to reproductive and end-of-life services would be curtailed. According to The Denver Post, similar fears slowed the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth’s plan over the last few years to buy out Exempla Lutheran Medical Center and Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in the Denver metro area.

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  17. But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

    As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

    The Catholic Health attorneys have so far won decisions from Fremont County District Court Judge David M. Thorson and now-retired Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Arthur Roy.

    In September, the Stodghills’ Aspen-based attorney Beth Krulewitch working with Denver-based attorney Dan Gerash appealed the case to the state Supreme Court. In their petition they argued that Judges Thorson and Roy overlooked key facts and set bad legal precedent that would open loopholes in Colorado’s malpractice law, relieving doctors of responsibility to patients whose viable fetuses are at risk.

    Whether the high court decides to take the case, kick it back down to the appellate court for a second review or accept the decisions as they stand, the details of the arguments the lawyers involved have already mounted will likely renew debate about Church health care directives and trigger sharp reaction from activists on both sides of the debate looking to underline the apparent hypocrisy of Catholic Health’s defense.

    At press time, Catholic Health did not return messages seeking comment. The Stodghills’ attorneys declined to comment while the case was still being considered for appeal.

    The Supreme Court is set to decide whether to take the case in the next few weeks.


  18. Catholic hospital says it was 'morally wrong' to argue fetus is not a person

    By CNN Staff February 5, 2013

    A Catholic hospital in hot water for claiming in a Colorado court that a fetus is not a person backtracked on Monday, saying it was "morally wrong" to make the argument while defending itself in a wrongful death lawsuit.

    The flip-flop concerns the case of Lori Stodghill. She was 28 weeks pregnant with twins when she went to the emergency room of St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado, vomiting and short of breath.

    She went into cardiac arrest in the lobby and died. That was New Year's Day 2006.

    Her husband, Jeremy Stodghill, sued the hospital and its owner, Catholic Health Initiatives, for the wrongful deaths of his wife and their unborn sons.

    Given the Catholic Church's belief that life begins at conception, defense attorneys for the hospital and doctors then entered an unusual argument.

    Proposal would give way out of birth-control coverage

    They said that under state law, an embryo is not person until it is born alive.

    The claim attracted widespread attention and criticism, which apparently forced the about-face.

    "In the discussion with the Church leaders, CHI representatives acknowledged that it was morally wrong for attorneys representing St. Thomas More Hospital to cite the state's Wrongful Death Act in defense of this lawsuit. That law does not consider fetuses to be persons, which directly contradicts the moral teachings of the Church," Catholic Health

    Initiatives said in a statement.

    It promised that attorneys for the hospital would not cite the Wrongful Death Act in any future hearings.

    Stodghill has petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to hear his case.

    The state's bishops similarly released a statement, expressing support for CHI and for the Stodghill family.

    "We join CHI in affirming the fundamental truth that human life, human dignity and human rights begin at conception. No law can ever mitigate God-given human rights," they said. "Each human life is a sacred gift, created as a unique and unrepeatable expression of God's love. Life is given by God, and the right to life is a fundamental good, without which no other rights can be enjoyed."


  19. HPV Vaccine Is Credited in Fall of Teenagers Infection Rate

    By SABRINA TAVERNISE New York Times June 19, 2013

    The prevalence of dangerous strains of the human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and a principal cause of cervical cancer — has dropped by half among teenage girls in recent years, a striking measure of success for a vaccine against the virus that was introduced only in 2006, federal health officials said on Wednesday.

    The sharp decline in the infection rate comes at a time of deepening worry among doctors and public health officials about the limited use of the HPV vaccine in the United States. Health departments across the country are scrambling for ways to increase vaccination rates, while nonprofit groups are using postcard reminders and social media campaigns and pediatricians are being encouraged to convince families of the vaccine’s benefits.

    There are some signs that resistance to the vaccine may be growing. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in March found that 44 percent of parents in 2010 said they did not intend to vaccinate their daughters, up from 40 percent in 2008. Because it prevents a sexually transmitted infection, the vaccine comes with a stigma. Some parents worry it promotes promiscuity. And it has been controversial. During the Republican primary in 2011, Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, said the vaccine could have “dangerous side effects,” a concern that health officials say is unfounded.

    The magnitude of the decline in HPV infections surprised public health experts because only about a third of teenage girls in the United States have been vaccinated with the full course of three doses. By comparison, vaccination rates in countries like Denmark and Britain are above 80 percent. Even Rwanda, in East Africa, has reached 80 percent.

    Yet even with relatively low vaccination rates in the United States, infection with the viral strains that cause cancer dropped to 3.6 percent among girls ages 14 to 19 in 2010, from 7.2 percent in 2006, the officials said.

    “These are striking results,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They should be a wake-up call that we need to increase vaccination rates. The bottom line is this: It is possible to protect the next generation from cancer, and we need to do it.”

    The findings, published online Wednesday in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, covered the years 2003 to 2010 and were based on a national survey that is conducted every two years and is considered the gold standard on health indicators. Government health workers interviewed more than 8,000 girls and women ages 14 to 59 and collected vaginal swabs that were evaluated by the C.D.C.

    The infection rate for girls fell even further when the two strains of the virus that cause genital warts were included, with a 56 percent drop over the period of the study. The rate was flat in the years before the vaccine was introduced, giving researchers even more assurance that the vaccine was driving the decline. Health officials began monitoring HPV prevalence in boys only this year. The first data will be available in 2015.

    There are about 12,000 cases of cervical cancer and 4,000 deaths a year in the United States. At current vaccination rates, the vaccine would prevent 45,000 cases of cervical cancer and 14,000 deaths among girls now age 13 and younger over the course of their lifetimes, according to C.D.C. estimates. Increasing the rate to 80 percent could prevent an additional 53,000 cancers and nearly 17,000 deaths.

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  20. Federal officials on Wednesday sought to dispel fears about the vaccine, and emphasized its role in preventing cervical cancer.

    “This is an anticancer vaccine,” Dr. Frieden said.

    About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV, or about a quarter of the American population. Each year, about 14 million people become infected. The virus causes about 19,000 cancers in women every year, and 8,000 in men, according to the C.D.C. Cervical cancer is the most common among women; among men, throat cancer is most common.

    Health officials offered several possible explanations for why the drop was so sharp even though most girls in the United States are still not fully vaccinated.

    One possible reason is a phenomenon known as herd immunity, in which people who are vaccinated reduce the overall prevalence of the virus in society, decreasing the chances that unvaccinated people would be exposed to someone who is infected. Another is the unexpected effectiveness of a partial dosage of the HPV vaccine, said Dr. Lauri E. Markowitz, a medical epidemiologist at the C.D.C. and the lead author of the study. About half of teenage girls in the United States have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

    Because girls and women who got vaccinated tended to be more sexually active, compared with those who were not vaccinated, researchers suggest that those who had been contributing most to the prevalence of the infection were no longer infecting others.

    There are two HPV vaccines, one made by Merck for boys and girls, and one by GlaxoSmithKline, for girls. Experts recommended in 2007 that all girls get vaccinated, and extended that guidance to boys in 2011.

    Earlier data from the C.D.C. showed that Hispanic girls were more likely to be vaccinated than white girls, even though they were less likely to come from families with health insurance or to get regular medical care. That is partly because a federal program that covers vaccines for the poor and underserved gave the H.P.V. vaccine to clinics, while many patients with private insurance had high co-pays or had to pay the full price, generally up to $500 for a complete cycle of the vaccine.

    But cost will be less of an issue after the full implementation of President Obama’s health care law, which Dr. Frieden said requires providers to cover the vaccine at no cost to patients.

    Another obstacle to higher vaccination rates are doctors, who Dr. Frieden said are “not consistently giving strong recommendations for the vaccines, particularly for younger teens.”

    Dr. Amanda F. Dempsey, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Denver, says most providers believe in the vaccine, but have met considerable resistance from parents, and feel that the brief time during visits may be better used on topics to which parents are more receptive.

    “You want to make the biggest impact,” said Dr. Dempsey, who recommends the vaccine to patients, but still gets a lot of refusals. Many parents do not believe their child is at risk because they are not sexually active, but she said that she explains that vaccination should happen long before exposure.

    She added, “For a lot of people there’s still a vague sense that there’s some controversy about the vaccine.”