Jon O'Brien grew up in Dublin and worked in Eastern Europe before immigrating to the United States in 1996. He is now a D.C. resident and president of the advocacy group Catholics for Choice, which works on issues ranging from abortion to AIDS to religion in public life.
Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?
I'm without a doubt a Catholic. I'm very proud to be one. I consider it to be a great blessing that I grew up as Catholic, and I grew up with very much embracing the idea of social justice. Our faith does not stop at the church door; it really begins there. Throughout the week, we live our faith and our belief.
The Roman Catholic Church officially opposes artificial contraception, but your group supports it. Why?
I think it's very important to look at the definition of "church." The church is all of the people of God. It's not a building somewhere. The hierarchy is part of the church, but they are not the church. And if you look at the sense of the people, and you look at Catholic teaching -- not just as recently espoused by certain members of the hierarchy -- conscience is the final arbiter in Catholic decision-making. I think to dissent from church teaching that is in fact wrong is the right thing to do. I'm not pro-choice despite my faith; I'm pro-choice because of my faith. I'm pro-choice because I believe in social justice. I see the suffering and death often visited on people because they are denied reproductive health services.
What would happen to the Roman Catholic Church if it and all its members embraced contraception?
I think what's hilarious is the church actually has. I've worked all over the world, and wherever you are, it makes absolutely no difference. The church as properly defined as Catholic has certainly embraced family planning. There was a time when contraception was illegal in Ireland, and the pressure that that caused for families, for relationships ... was profound. There's been a great liberation away from that lack of choice toward the ability of people to make grown-up decisions for themselves, their buddies, their life. When we hear a priest having to read out on Sundays some absolute rubbish from the bishops, you're embarrassed for the poor priest because you know he doesn't believe it, you don't believe it, you know no one around you believes it. The bishops have ... been so obsessed with sex and sexuality. They really need to get over it.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
I really do believe that we are all part of a large family, whether that family be the Catholic family or the family that is humanity. I like to think that there is unity between us, even in our diversity. We should see one other really and truly as brothers and sisters and celebrate the fact that we are different. Different is OK. I think God sees it that way. I think she actually doesn't have a problem with our differences.