Review: Melinda Gates and her struggles with the Catholic Church

Melinda Gates speaks at the London Summit on Family Planning in London on July 11, 2012. . (CNS photo/Suzanne Plunkett, Reuters) 

In her new book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, Melinda Gates shares her experiences building the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, especially the time she spent on the margins listening to people her foundation serves. She emphasizes how the things she saw and heard from women shaped her charitable work and pushed her to focus on gender equality.

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The Moment of Liftby Melinda Gates

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Melinda Gates is Catholic, and the book raises a question many Catholics wrestle with: Can you take actions in conflict with a teaching of the church and still be part of the church?

In 2012, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $560 million to increase access to contraceptives; Melinda Gates writes that making contraceptives available is about following her conscience, which has been formed by the teachings of the Catholic Church. Her decision to publicly support and fund birth control initiatives was the subject of a front-page story in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, in which Giulia Galeotti, a frequent contributor on abortion and other life issues, said that Gates was “off the mark” and the victim of “bad information and persistent stereotypes on this theme.”

“I was putting my faith into action when I went into the field and met the women who asked me about contraceptives,” Gates writes. To help women who want to space their pregnancies for their health and the health of their children “aligns with Christ’s teaching to love my neighbor,” she writes.

The Moment of Lift is not an attack on Catholicism but an honest accounting of how Melinda Gates came to be in conflict with the church while living her faith.

The book is not an attack on Catholicism but an honest accounting of how Melinda Gates came to be in conflict with the church while living her faith. She writes that an all-male hierarchy makes rules that hurt women but is grateful for the nuns at the high school she attended (Ursuline Academy in Dallas), who taught her the importance of hearing the cry of the poor. She also shares how a Marriage Encounter weekend affected her parents and the immense gratitude she feels toward women religious who dedicate their lives to serving the poor.

The Moment of Lift also weaves together stories of Melinda Gates’s family life and marriage. These anecdotes add vulnerability and personality to an account by a woman whose extreme wealth could otherwise make her seem unrelatable. (She is careful not to imply a false sense of equivalence between her life and those of the poor.) From asking Bill to leave her first public speech because she was nervous to her shock that her husband would offer to drive their daughter to school, she offers a candid account of striving for an equal partnership with Bill Gates.

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Opting Out
2 months 2 weeks ago

I looked forward to reading your review only to find it told me little about this powerful, inspiring woman. Melinda disagrees with a teaching of the Church. That is hardly news considering US Bishops conduct their lives contrary to the Church. Tell us more please. I know little about her, other than what Amazon and Wikipedia tell us, and i would like to know how her Catholicism is expressed in her actions. As to empowering women, that too is hardly new. The Ursuline Nuns were obviously empowering women to Melinda. Half of the Catholic Saints were testament of empowering women starting with the Blessed Mother. Please tell us more about Melinda. I am intrigued! Thank you

Rhett Segall
2 months 2 weeks ago

"Melinda Gates is Catholic, and the book raises a question many Catholics wrestle with: Can you take actions in conflict with a teaching of the church and still be part of the church?" Most Catholics differ with the Church’s teaching on contraception. The Papacy has not spoken “ex cathedra” on the issue. If a person has done everything he/she can to know what is moral in this area than they should do what they think the right thing to do is. St. Thomas says that if a person does not believe in Christ but says he does that person sins against his conscience. But in differing with the Church’s official teaching a Catholic should not belittle the Magisterium and should be open to its point of view.
I would like to see the Gates Foundation explore and encourage Natural Family Planning. Used properly it is as effective as other methods of conception control and has unique bonding effects.

karen oconnell
2 months 2 weeks ago

offering NFP to the general public is an enormous insult to that public!!! . NFP works (or, more accurately) ''can work'' if '''everything and everybody'' is in place and in agreement around it's use. i support AC 100%-- but i am concerned about what the ingesting all those chemicals over a long period of time will do to a woman's body. forget what 'this bunch of guys' (and 'gals) think...... they don't know; they are just following a trend of thought and philosophy in place since the beginning of time that says that if we don't keep our women 'barefoot and pregnant' the(ir) world will fall apart. forget what they say; tell them to clean up their own house before they start ''messing'' with ours.

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

The CDC reports an NFP failure rate range of 2% to TWENTY THREE PERCENT (23%).

No other method has a high-end of the range of failure rates that high.

Joan Sheridan
2 months 2 weeks ago

I know thousands of Americans use Natural Family Planning. I think Melinda Gates doesn't understand that poor woman in other countries can also use it. It is not that difficult to do.. I wonder did she ever try to explain it.

Annette Magjuka
2 months 2 weeks ago

My mom had 5children in less than five years using “natural FAMILY planning”! And yes , she breastfed all of us. She had five kids by the time she was 23. This was overwhelming to her, and ultimately, to our entire family.

Stanley Kopacz
2 months 2 weeks ago

So you're saying Natural Family Planning works well if you're planning to have a really big family.

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Annette, same here. After kid five of five (me), my mother told our Catholic priest she couldn't cope ---- really could not cope ----- and asked for permission to use cobtraception. He told her "no". He told her that "if women could use contraception, they would be running the streets like dogs". My mother divorced my father, left the church, took five little kids with her, never had a relationship again AND, as was her goal, never gave birth to another child because she was stretched beyond all capacities to manage the five she had. The pain and tragedy that resulted was wholly unnecessary and, as far as that priest and the RCC goes, it is unforgivable.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Natural Family Planning doesn't work. And even if it did, it requires husbands to cooperate, which isn't very often workable in developing countries. That is why contraception that is long lasting and efficient, like shots or IUDs, is a better choice.

karen oconnell
2 months 2 weeks ago

truly--- i have never been able to understand the church's position/ rationale on the morality of 'family planning .'' that is, they tell us that we cannot use artificial means to control our reproductive powers. ie we cannot have tubal ligations, (x: medical)..we cannot support our partner''s desire for the same. we cannot use materials ie condoms. we cannot use anything that the Vatican believes to be ''''unnatural''''- ( although many among us would consider ''''celibacy'' to be the most un-natural state ever.) what is so great about 'natural.?' if we can't hear...speak...see we are freely able to seek ways of remedying this loss... this disruption in our lives. (ie glasses are not immoral-so far.) seems like the only evil that they can find in AC is that it ''isn't natural.' for me the RCC position and 'rationale' is the stupidest concept ever. (the use of NFP is fine if that it what the persons concerned want---------------- but to try to force us to that or nothing is for me- one of the most logical explanations as to why the RCC is disappearing as we speak/ write. it should!-(at least in it's present state.)

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Joan, every NFP description I have ever read emphasizes the critical and ***willing*** participation of the male partner, often a shared faith life, and a family-and-work life which accommodates the time and energy required to monitor the relationship, the sex life and the woman's fertility. When women are focused on getting food and water into the house; when they are focused on keeping themselves and children safe from abusive and drunk partners; when they are focused on two and three jobs or long commutes travelling by bus or foot; when they are focused on surviving by never getting pregnant again while still having an intimate life with a loving spouse; while keeping their existing children healthy and fed by not having one more child; or or or or or or or setting aside time for the work of NFP with its potential failure rate of 23% when used CORRECTLY is a big ask. How many of "thousands of Americans" you know are living those conditions?

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Melinda Gates is a great inspiration. She understands very well the connection between poverty, health, and women's ability to control how many children they have and when they have them. She is doing God's work. Here's a TED talk she gave on contraception and its affect on women's lives ... https://youtu.be/2BOTS9GAjc4
PS - NFP doesn't work, which is why less than 2% of Catholics use it.

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

Crystal, not sure where you are getting your information about NFP, but it is simply not accurate to say that it "doesn't work." In fact the CDC just updated their rates acknowledging fertility-based awareness methods can have unintended pregnancy rates as low as 2%. (See: https://www.factsaboutfertility.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2013-Manhart-et-al-Review-of-Effectiveness-Osteopathic-Family-Plysician.pdf) Moreover, the hormones in hormonal birth control, like the pill or the patch, are synthetic estrogens which can cause a range of side effects and risks not posed by the woman’s natural hormones. NFP does not damage, disable or destroy a woman’s normally functioning reproductive health system with synthetic hormones.

karen oconnell
2 months 2 weeks ago

to suggest that the Vatican employs tons of $$$.....and 'man-power' (literally) to condemn artificial contraception --- out of concern for a woman's health is the most laughable concept that i have heard to date. (not for the first time) even VC would not adopt that 'explanation' for fear of being laughed out of the room. let the people decide. we are, afterall, the People of God. (aren't we???)

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

From HHS (https://www.hhs.gov/opa/pregnancy-prevention/birth-control-methods/natural-family-planning-and-fertility-awareness/index.html) ... "It [NFP] can be an effective type of birth control if more than one method is used" ... snort ;)
I used birth control pills continuously for 30 years. Never had one side effect.

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

Crystal, while you may have never had "one side effect" during your time using hormonal birth control pills, many, many women report horrible side effects, and many women -- including non-religious and non-Catholics -- have begun to speak out against it. This series in the New York Times (of all places) details one woman's experience: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/09/opinion/birth-control-your-own-adventure.html

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Birth control pills are incredibly safe. And there are also IUDs that don't use hormones. Pregnancies can actually be more dangerous to health than using contraception. "All methods of contraception are considered okay for healthy women. They're even safer than going through pregnancy and childbirth, says Colleen Krajewski, MD, an assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh." ... WebMD ... https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/features/is-your-birth-control-as-safe-as-you-think#1

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Crystal, Mary works for a conservative think-tank. https://catholicwomensforum.org/about/. Her job is, explicitly, to use her identity as a woman to get other women to accept and obey Church teaching.

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

I believe you are the same "J" who previously posted with regularity under the name "J Brooksbank," where well-known on these pages for your ad hominem attacks on those who express any support whatsoever for the Church's teaching on abortion or contraception. How interesting to see you back at it under a new pseudonym.

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mary, please address your information here. In providing education about a specific method of family planning, you cited the CDC on the low end of the failure rate range but not the high end of TWENTY THREE PERCENT. You then linked to an ideological source rather than the source you cited. You also failed to note that of the ten most prevalent estronogenics, artificial contraceptives are the least prevalent of those ten, according to the author you cited. Further, without supporting evidence, you stated this was a greater health threat than secondhand smoke. Those choices matter when one is in a public position like yours. Your role makes the quality of your information important, and the quality of your information makes your role important. And that is of a reflection of how profoundly important accurate medical information is and how essential it is that women respect that reality in other women's lives, Mary. Women's right to accurate information trumps the Church's agenda here.

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

J., (either Jones or Brooksbank), I have noted that ANY source that could be cited to prove the harms of hormonal contraceptives, or the reliability of NFP, would be dismissed by you as "ideological sources." The information I shared with you comes from Dr. Marguerite Duane, who is a Board-Certified physician and Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University, where she teaches fertility-awareness based family planning methods to medical students. Your comments also suggest that artificial methods of contraception are fail-proof, when even Planned Parenthood acknowledges (in it's last annual report) that 49% of the women coming to them for abortions were using contraception during the month they became pregnant. And the head of BPAS -- Great Britain's equivalent to Planned Parenthood -- has admitted publicly that hat a quarter of women who had an abortion at BPAS clinics in 2016 were using the "most effective method" of birth control available -- either hormonal contraception or a long acting reversible contraceptive method (LARC) when they presented as pregnant. See: https://www.bpas.org/about-our-charity/press-office/press-releases/women-cannot-control-fertility-through-contraception-alone-bpas-data-shows-1-in-4-women-having-an-abortion-were-using-most-effective-contraception/

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mary, your "notes" are as problematic as those of your information and citations which I addressed. I have articulated no opinion on AC safety or effectiveness; and I have articulated no objection to FABM (NFP) information that is presented according to the norms for responsible, transparent and accurate presentation of ANY medical information.

You cited the new CDC failure ratings for FABM as "as low as 2%" and linked to Dr Duane's org. In fact, the most recent CDC mention on that website is a 2018 petition asking the CDC to update its effectiveness ratings. Nowhere does that website cite the new CDC failure rating of "2% to 23%" which, again, you presented as "as low as 2%".

If a woman's healthcare goal is NOT to get pregnant, she needs to the whole statistic and a direct citation, not spin which is what you provided. I can't think of any other healthcare intervention in which it would be considered professionally appropriate to educate about effectiveness data by citing only the low end of the failure range.

None of my "comments ... suggests artificial methods of contraception are fail-proof". I have made exactly zero (0) comments here or anywhere else about the effectiveness of artificial methods of contraception. Education about effectiveness, safety, and population- or person-specific considerations about any healthcare method or intervention is most appropriately and safely provided by medical providers, in part because those providers are bound by licensing boards as well as professional ethics and laws to educate with full and accurate and transparent data re: effectiveness/failure ratings, complicating factors and resouces for confirming the above.

My comments here, Mary, are directed explicitly and narrowly to your failure to provide full and accurate and transparent information about the CDC failure ratings for FABM (NFP) and your decision to link to a resource which does not, in fact, reference the data you cited. Further, you stated without supporting evidence that residual artifical hormones in the environment from contraceptives present a greater health risk than secondhand smoke, and you referenced a book in a way that works when persuasion rather than education is the goal. Women deserve and want *education* when it comes to their healthcare decisions, Mary. I am certain you would agree with that statement were the topic abortion; I definitely do. Even when women understand they are engaged with the Church's agenda-driven education, I believe women still expect healthcare data will be presented in accurately and transparently. You failed here and, thus, are contributing to the RCC's reputation for disrespecting women. What a waste of an opportunity.

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Dup.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

J, thanks.

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

And moreover, one who takes Laudato Si seriously also needs to consider the role of synthetic estrogen on the environment. Synthetic estrogen in the water is not filtered out. According to Anthony Jay’s book, "Estrogeneration," all of us are affected. Some of us will be more susceptible to cancer or heart attacks but we are all at risk. Talk about second-hand smoke. This is far more serious.

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mary, the author's list of "Top Ten" estrogenics (artificial estrogens) lists artificial contraceptives as number 10.
As usual, your presentation of information is manipulative and, thus, disrespectful of women. It doesn't matter if it is RCC male or female leaders intellectually disrespecting Catholic women. It is still disrespect.

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mary, the CDC reports a range of typical-use failure rates from two percent (2%) to TWENTY-THREE PERCENT (23%).

No other method rated by the CDC has a high-end of the range of failure rates that high. A more informative, non-ideological source of information is the CDc itself (cdc.gov/reproductive health/contraception/index.htm). Again, the CDC ratings report "a range of typical use failures rates of 2-23%". That high end of the range MATTERS. Again, no other method is reported by the CDC to have a high-end of the range of failure rates that high. Additionally, the authors of the OB-GYN Journal study ( Vol 132, Issue 3, Sept 2018) which was cited by the CDC concludes: "Obtaining the best possible data...is critical". They also note that women should be told that "these estimates are not applicable to all women or across populations nor can they be definitively used to compare effectiveness between methods". That makes that upper range of the CDC-noted failure rate a damned important piece of information, Mary. You are a person in a position of influence in the Catholic community and you have quoted the low end of the failure rate range but NOT the high end and the critical caveats AND you directed people to an ideological resource rather than to the CDC and the original study.

Every woman who writes about using these methods writes the role of a strong and equal relationship with her male partner, very often a shared faith and a family-and-work life that allows for time-and-energy-intensive monitoring of relationship, sex life and fertility. It sounds great for those woman whose lives allow for it. The failure to acknowledge that significant numbers of women do not live that reality is a failure of respect, decency and fairness.

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you the great reading suggestion and the tantalizing review: just enough to make me curious and not so much that I can pretend I got the gist and indulge my laziness! Gates is a tremendous resource for women. I did not know she is Catholic and am interested to know more. What a novel idea: being guided by women about their reproductive lives rather than being dictated to by a comparative handful of men who do not have reproductive lives.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Melinda Gates is part of what is and has been a majority of Catholics who see contraception as positive. At V2 a majority of bishops argued for contraception, the Pope's own Commission on Birth Control argued for contraception, and it was a Catholic doctor, John Rock, who helped to create the birth control pill. When Paul VI went with a minority opinion on contraception, hundreds of theologians and many bishops conferences around the world dissented. More than 90% of Catholics use contraception now.

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

Crystal, Melinda Gates also represents what women in many African countries refer to as "neo-colonial" in their attempts to force artificial forms of family planning on their nations. The "Western solution" is not always preferred by many women in various African nations, as Obianuju Ekeocha points out in this BBC interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FutdOaDXOg0

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

This is a common trope of conservative Catholics. Not surprising that Obianuju Ekeocha works for Catholic Answers/Catholic Voices, a conservative UK lobbying group run by guys like Austen Ivereigh. Contraception use is voluntary but the problem for many women in developing countries is getting access to it. "In Developing Nations, 214 Million Women Want to Prevent Pregnancy But Have No Contraception" ... https://slate.com/human-interest/2017/06/in-developing-nations-214-million-women-want-to-prevent-pregnancy-but-have-no-contraception.html

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

Ms. Ekeocha actually works for Culture of Life Africa, which she founded. Because her writing is occasionally published by Catholic Answers doesn't mean she works for them, and it certainly doesn't mean that she does not think and speak for herself. I would suggest you look at her "Open Letter to Melinda Gates" for further information on her experiences with contraception and women in Africa. http://cultureoflifeafrica.com/articles/an-african-womans-open-letter-to-melinda-gates

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

This org dishonestly lays at Gates' feet sole responsibility for decades of conflict between Roman Catholic/Christian efforts to prevent African women from having access to family planning services and the effort by African and international human rights, humanitarian and health organizations to provide African women with access to family services. The website's version of the story has that conflict begin the day Melinda Gates first went to Africa. It is always convenient to have a boogeywoman but it is just not historically accurate. What has actually happened is that the Catholic Church finally met its match in terms of wealth: the Church has controlled African healthcare and other aid programs by controlling the money, a significant corner of the hospital systems and, thus, governmental influence. The Gates Foundation has freed African communities to make their own choices by giving them money to effect their choices. Melinda Gates didn't start this process. She is wealthy beyond imagination but she is simply not that powerful. There certainly legitimate criticisms of her and her work; the website's criticism is simply false.
https://www.gatesfoundation.org/what-we-do/global-development/family-planning

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

The problem for conservative is that there really are no good arguments against using contraception, so they make up arguments (it's a racist plot, it's destroying the ecosystem, it's bad for women's health), and when those don't hold up, they resort to attacking the messengers. It's a failed teaching, based on the church trying to control women's sexual lives, and virtually no Catholic respects or follows it.

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

Crystal, there are AMPLE good arguments against using contraception, especially from a woman's health perspective (see the "Birth Control Your Own Adventure" series in the NYT, for example, or "Sweetening the Pill: How we Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control," which notes that few women are informed how the drug works or the potential side effects. The birth-control pill impacts every organ and function of the body, and yet most women do not even think of it as a drug. Moreover, the "pill" and other artificial means of contraception have changed the entire dating/mating/marriage market, to the distinct disadvantage of women, who find it now more difficult to find an appropriate mate. (See the Austin Institute's research: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO1ifNaNABY). And witness the skyrocketing out-of-wedlock birth rates in communities of color (72.5% in the African American community, for example), which have led to a whole host of other problems, including increasing violence, poverty, and crime.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Your arguments are not convincing, but maybe they will work on an uneducated and cowed religious minority. Good luck with that.

Mary FioRito
2 months 2 weeks ago

They are not "my arguments" rather, they are those from experts in medicine, sociology and family planning -- but I understand that the public admission from one of the world's leading promoter and provider of contraception that even the most "reliable" methods fail 25% of the time would be troubling to someone who believes that contraception is the solution to most of the world's problems.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

1) Contraception is not dangerous. There are different kinds, not all have hormones. IUDs are are more than 99% efficient. People should ask their doctor about contraception, not a religious pundit.
2) Contraception isn't a danger to the environment. What is a big danger is people having too many kids. The carbon footprint of having 2 or more children is astronomical (https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/children-carbon-footprint-climate-change-damage-having-kids-research-a7837961.html).

J Jones
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mary, what is your citation for "out of wedlock births in communities of color... which have led to ...increasing violence, poverty and crime"?

One of your arguments comes from the Austin Institute which is run by the fellow who produced the debunked 2012 study about children raised by gay parents (overview at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Family_Structures_Study. )

ALSO Re: the institute itself --- https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/news/2014-03-03/austins-new-no-sex-institute/

ALSO re: "the market" Mary references: or the Institute's "economy is sex"
a) https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.businessinsider.com/economics-of-sex-video-debunked-2014-2;

B) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0361684317714707

C) An economist on this market theory, which requires the "enforcement mechanism" of women "polic[ng]" each other (quotations are the Institute's words). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dollars-and-sex/201402/policing-female-sexual-behaviour-the-sake-marriage

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
2 months 2 weeks ago

"Can you take actions in conflict with a teaching of the church and still be part of the church?"
Apparently. Just ask all the priests that misbehave and continue to do so with the blessing of the hierarchy, shielded and protected ad nauseum. This question needs to be applied to the boys running the church. It is clear that they are not exactly "Catholic".
The church means more to the laity than to the clerics.

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