Polish bishops: European pact on violence, women flouts church teaching

By Jonathan Luxmoore

Catholic News Service

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — Polish Catholic leaders urged legislators not to ratify an international convention combating violence against women, claiming some of its clauses violate Catholic teaching.

“This convention is not directed at countering violence, as its title suggests, but at imposing an ideological cultural revolution,” said the Family Affairs Council of the Polish bishops’ conference.

“It seeks to redefine sex as an alterable social phenomenon, rather than a biological one, and to blame the foundational communities of marriage and family for all violence.”

The statement was issued Oct. 2 as Polish members of Parliament prepared to debate ratification of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.

It said the Catholic Church believed “violence against women, children, the aged and handicapped, and against men” was “a social phenomenon demanding counter-action in many fields, beginning with education.”

However, it added that the 2011 convention, signed in December 2012 by Poland’s government, treated marriage and family “as a threat” and obligated states to bring up children in line with “nonstereotyped sex roles,” ignoring the views of parents and the church.

“For countering violence, this convention adds no new solutions to existing Polish laws and social practices,” said the statement, signed by the council president, Bishop Jan Watroba of Rzeszow.

“It makes no effort to combat media violence or the pornography which objectifies women. Nor does it tackle alcohol and drug abuse, or the extreme form of violence against conceived children, which is abortion.”

The 81-article convention criminalizes forced marriages, female genital mutilation and stalking, and creates the world’s first legal framework for curbing psychological and sexual violence, protecting victims and removing impunity for perpetrators.

Speaking Sept. 25 in Poland’s lower house, the government’s equal rights minister, Malgorzata Fuszara, said seven women died in Europe every day through “sex-related violence,” adding that many of the convention’s articles were “exceptionally important for victims,” including those dealing with rape cases.

However, church-backed organizations, including Catholic Action and Poland’s Federation of Pro-Life Movements, submitted statements urging legislators to block the document, which is to be debated again after further committee work.

In its statement, the bishops’ Family Affairs Council said the church worked to ensure relations between citizens were “based on goodwill and mutual respect” and also supported marriage preparation and family therapy classes, and efforts to combat “aggression and violence” by Catholic organizations.

However, it added that the convention’s “ideological definitions” would violate Poland’s 1997 constitution and infringe the country’s right “to make its own decision on matters of faith, ethics and family life.”

“This convention attempts to create a new social order in which family and tradition are marginalized and the state gains instruments of deep control over them,” the bishops’ statement said.

“Far from building positive relations between people, it projects the rebuilding of society on an ideological base. For his reason, it cannot be accepted.”

The Convention, which came into force Aug. 1, has been signed by 36 of the Council of Europe’s 47 member-states, and ratified by 14, although three — Germany, Malta and Serbia — have also voiced official reservations.

In a December 2012 statement, the Polish bishops’ conference said several clauses interfered with “values accepted by millions of Poles,” including Article 3, which defines gender as “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes,” and Article 12, which commits states to ensure “culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called ‘honour’ shall not be considered as justifying acts of violence.”

The director of the Polish bishops’ National Family Pastorate centre, Rev. Przemyslaw Drag, told Catholic News Service Oct. 2 the church had welcomed grassroots Catholic opposition to the convention.

However, he added that it feared conflict over the issue with the new liberal government of Ewa Kopacz, Poland’s new prime minister. He said although she declared support for strengthening the family, her “voting record on issues like same-sex partnerships suggests she follows party preferences rather than sound principles,” Drag said.

“Although some people are pressing hard for this convention to be enforced here, many others are pressing for better solutions, and the bishops will go on supporting them,” he added.

Drag said the Polish church had raised no objection to a separate Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, signed in 2007 and approved by the lower house of Parliament Sept. 26.

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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