Immaculate Contraception

Colombia’s decades-old civil war has claimed countless victims and created more absurd situations than even novelist Gabriel García Márquez could have imagined. But for sheer lunacy, nothing comes close to the recent revelation in Colombia’s leading daily newspaper, El Tiempo, that some Catholic Church leaders want to give the birth-control pill to nuns working in war-torn regions such as Colombia and Bosnia.

The idea for the nun pill came from Monsignor Juan Antonio Reig, president of the Subcommission for the Family and Life of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. Speaking at a news conference in Spain to announce a meeting on the impacts of abortion and euthanasia, the Spanish cleric said the pill could be considered a “self-defense” weapon for nuns facing the threat of rape, El Tiempo reported.

What makes Reig’s proposal truly ludicrous is that Catholic married couples are forbidden to use birth control. According to a 1968 papal encyclical, every “marriage act” must remain open to the transmission of life, hence the genesis of the notoriously ineffective “rhythm method.”

The birth-control-for-nuns idea touched off a storm of controversy, including questions about whether some sisters are already on the pill. One Colombian cleric, the Rev. Hugo Fernández, protested that Reig couldn’t be talking about such atrocities as rape in Colombia, but probably was thinking of “Africa and countries such as Bosnia, and not about this part of the world.” Apparently, Fernández was not aware of Colombia’s dismal human-rights record, including the more than 200 people killed in massacres carried out by paramilitary and rebel groups in the first two months of this year, according to human-rights groups.

U.S. Catholic officials say prescribing the pill for nuns wouldn’t necessarily violate church doctrine. “If the pill were being used for the purpose of a contraceptive, that would be a problem,” said Father Thomas Rausch, chairman of the Theological Studies Department at Loyola Marymount University. “This is a very different thing. We are talking about the violence against a woman, not about preventing a child in a marriage.” In other words, women can use the pill — as long as they’re not having fun?

—Sandra Hernandez


The Grammys be damned, insiders know the record-industry event of the year was legendary label chief Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Hills Hotel last week.

“Have you seen Kathy Lee?” a banker asked OffBeat as we checked out the arrivals at Davis’ gig. “Kathy Lee Gifford?” OffBeat asked. “Yes, I told her I would hold her hand tonight.”

“That’s O-Town,” interrupted the Washington Post entertainment writer, referring to the boy group created for the ABC-TV show Making the Band. “You should write about them. I crucified them in one of my articles.”

A huge bodyguard loomed behind newly shorn N’Syncer Justin Timberlake, who was wearing a midcalf-length black leather coat. Nearby, MTV’s Carson Daly fended off an admirer. “I met you one night at a concert,” the admirer said. “I work with Babyface. I have a lot of respect for you. Look out for a new group in Clive Davis’ label. This is the man here!” he said, gesturing to a young Latino. “Thank you, thank you, thank you very much,” said Daly. Girlfriend Tara Reid nudged him. “Let’s go outside and have a cigarette.”

In the ballroom, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Quincy Jones, Angela Bassett, Melissa Etheridge (and her Brad Pitt look-alike companion) and 500 other guests snacked on poached Maine lobster with Mediterranean rice salad, chicken with porcini mousse stuffing and a Madeira truffle sauce, and drank 350 bottles of wine. Fifty Beverly Hills hotel cooks, four chefs and 65 white-gloved waiters hovered solicitously.

Performing were Gladys Knight, Wyclef Jean, Mary J. Blige and Stevie Wonder. Carlos Santana posed for pictures with the food servers and busboys. “I can’t believe he has the nerve to show his face,” an AP music writer said as Jesse Jackson walked by. “I can’t believe we missed out on the Maine lobster,” a peckish OffBeat groused.

—Christine Pelisek


Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, was in L.A. last week to drum up support for her Co-ordinated Anti-Poverty Programs, dedicated to fighting illiteracy, poverty and the devastation of AIDS in displaced rural communities of South Africa. We decided to check out what a leader who spent most of the 1990s fighting off accusations of murder, assault and child abduction was up to. Apparently, she has reinvented herself as a children’s advocate. Her appearance last week was hosted by Support a Child International Inc.

“We need you to teach us about democracy,” Madikizela-Mandela told the audience at an evening reception at the African-American Museum in Exposition Park. “Come teach us how to live with your former enemy.”

Madikizela-Mandela was implicated in a “reign of terror” that her personal bodyguards, known as the Mandela United Football Club, were accused of carrying out in the black township of Soweto. Many of her former associates were sent to prison for murder, including one convicted of nine killings, but Madikizela-Mandela managed to have her sole conviction, the 1990s kidnapping of a 14-year-old teenage activist who was later murdered, reduced to a fine on appeal.

Madikizela-Mandela insisted that she disbanded the football club in the late 1980s at the instruction of her still-imprisoned husband, but continued to be branded by its activities.

Her L.A. fans said they never gave much credence to the accusations.

“She is a brave woman to withstand all the criticism and attacks,” said Adwoa Nyamekye, the 50-year-old president of the Black Employees Association, a nonprofit organization representing African-American and other minority workers.

“Anytime you are at the forefront of a controversial struggle, you’ll be criticized. The test of a leader is how quickly you get back up again,” community activist Najee Ali said.

“In spite of all the things that have been done to her, she is still a loyal and hard worker,” said Nelle Becker-Staton, a retired schoolteacher and children’s-book author.

—Lee Condon


It was bound to happen: The queen of housekeeping, Martha Stewart, has offered an immunity challenge to the hardy souls of this season’s Survivor TV series. Appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live, Martha was by turns flirtatious (Martha: “You are married now. Too bad.” Larry: “But you certainly were a catch”), then serious as King shifted into hard-nosed interviewer mode: “Do you think you could go to the outback of Australia? Could you be a Survivor?” he questioned her sharply. With a flick of her softly coifed blond hair and nary a wrinkle in her pastel-blue suit, the ever-poised Ms. Stewart responded that not only would she survive “easily,” but that she would probably win the television game. Martha went on to offer her “services” to the show’s producers. Now what services could those be? Making the centerpiece for the Tribal Council table? Monogramming the alligator traps? Grilling rats 10 ways?

Perusing the CNN interview for Martha’s Survivor quotient, we came to agree that she might well come out on top in the outback. However briefly, Martha studied architecture and chemistry in college. She brags about being able “to find food where other people can’t” and suffers from a vicious “urge to get things done.” Strip away the vintage milk-glass kitchenware and color-coded ribbon organizers, after all, and Martha Stewart is a woman who can cut up a raw chicken in 30 seconds flat. Or, we dare say, a rat.

—Gendy Alimurung


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