TOPICS > Health

Guatemala’s Archbishop Speaks on Family Planning, Violence Against Women

BY Talea Miller  March 9, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST

Guatemala's Archbishop. Photo by Talea Miller

Ray Suarez spoke with Guatemala’s Archbishop Oscar Julio Vian Morales about two health challenges the country faces: high birth rates and high levels of violence against women. Read excerpts from their conversation below.

RAY SUAREZ:The Obama administration has changed its emphasis in giving health aid to concentrating on women and children. Among the services they are providing is family planning including contraception. Is this a problem for the Catholic Church?

ARCHBISHOP OSCAR JULIO VIAN MORALES: Aid  is always good and we hope it is given, the problem is always the conditions established for this aid.  Especially, because they are going to aid mothers, women and children, but many times, at what price?  What are they going to ask us for, like it has happened [before].

RAY SUAREZ: When American officials look at Guatemala they see a country with the fastest growth rate in population in the entire hemisphere, and they see women who wouldn’t necessarily want to avoid having  children but would like to space them better.  Is there in the family context an acceptable reason for using birth control?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Our governments as well as other international institutions attack birth directly, but they never attack, or help us to educate people in a way which people start becoming conscious  of how many children they should have, because the church  is not opposed to family planning. It must exist and it must be compulsory in all facilities.

The problem is how or the methods that are used in this planning, like forcing families and many times sterilizing them for life. In regard to this matter  I think we should insist and the foreign governments should insist  not that much on family planning to have less children, but in that conscious planning in each family in a responsible manner.

Therefore, they should insist more on education, health, work that our families need so much in our Guatemala.

RAY SUAREZ: You say that the Church is not opposed to family planning. What methods would be ok, what methods would be approved and which are not?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: The method we approve is the one we all know as the Billings method, and all those methods that  within the family they decide is best for them. For example, the condom, many times it is an obligation for people to use it. And it is an obligation for people who have AIDS or any other disease.

In Guatemala, Family Planning Clashes with Religion, Tradition

In that case, it is not that this is a sin, but it is a sin not to do it, because other people are being harmed. In all this methods what must always be present is respect for the human being, for it not to be harmed. We do not accept any  methods which may harm the human being.

RAY SUAREZ: Does the Catholic church speak as loud a voice, as influential a voice as in times past or have the Protestant churches become also loud voices and competition for the souls and the minds of Guatemala?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Yes, the Catholic church continuous to speak with the strong voice it had in the past… part of the population is not Catholic, nonetheless, we think that people who are not Catholic, still listen to this moral voice of the Catholic church, because in this country, thank God, the Catholic church still has a great moral possession  and it has credibility among Catholic and non Catholic believers.

There are many issues of interest that are of interest to Catholics as well as non Catholics.

RAY SUAREZ: I ask about the Catholic church because there is also a greet problem that is violence against women and girls, and in fighting them, can the Catholic church tell men, order them: stop beating their wives,  their mothers their sisters the women of this country?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Yes, constantly, be it through the sermon or preparations| that we have in the parishes, we are insisting on this issue. Even more, in each church we have the so calledPastoral de la Mujer  [Women’s Pastoral] to help them on this matter.

In fact they are becoming more conscious of their own rights, by attending these groups that have been created. Now, not only do we help change the heart but the mind of us men who, many times  don’t know how to treat  women, because of that culture, in other countries they would call “machista” , and that certainly also exists here in our country.

A man is the first who has to attend this Pastoral de la Mujer, to know how to treat her and give her the place she really deserves.