Sed Contra: I Don’t Get It

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 2003

For years the Vatican has been fighting the United Nations. Through its status as a full member of international conferences, the Holy See Mission to the UN has aggressively, but diplomatically, opposed the “population control” policies of the UN bureaucracy and its member nations.

Led by the former UN nuncio Archbishop Renato Martino (now president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) and former Vatican diplomat John Klink, the Vatican has aligned itself with Muslim and Catholic countries to fight the pro-abortion language of innumerable UN conferences over the past 15 years, including the Cairo population conference and the Beijing women’s conference. Most recently the United States, with Klink as an appointed U.S. delegate at a population conference in Bangkok, succeeded in clarifying in an official reservation that the United States does not accept UN abortion language.

Since President George W. Bush’s election, the United States has reversed former president Bill Clinton’s pro-abortion policies and has fully supported the Vatican’s anti-abortion and pro-family stance. The price paid by the Bush administration for its courage has been continued criticism for its “unilateralism.”

The United Nations, of course, is a large organization but contains egregious critics of Catholic pro-life and pro-family teachings such as UNFPA, UNICEF, and UNAIDS. For example, UNFPA has condemned the Church’s opposition to the abortifacient morning-after pill and has supported the so-called Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC). More sinisterly, UNFPA continues to attempt to influence Catholic leaders to accept its population control agenda.

Diplomatic victories for the culture of life and Catholic social teaching were achieved in spite of a hostile UN aligned with pro-abortion factions, mainly radical feminist groups, from around the world. It came as no surprise when CFFC began to clamor for the elimination of the Vatican’s permanent observer status. Without the Vatican’s presence at the UN and its international conferences, the pro-abortion forces would be free to mandate abortion as an acceptable policy worthy of government funding and bureaucratic machinery throughout the world.

So who would have thought the Vatican would start looking to the UN as a moral authority, especially on judgments regarding specific Catholic principles? And yet, this appears to now be the case. Does Cardinal Laghi, the papal envoy sent to meet with President Bush last month, really want to designate the UN as the only body capable of determining the justice of the Iraq war?

Over these past few months, comments from members of the Curia have set a dangerous precedent. They have said that the approval of the UN Security Council must be received for any country to wage a just war against another country. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches something different: It’s the responsibility of a nation’s political leadership, using their individual prudence, to decide whether a war is justified. A nation is not bound by the collective judgment of other nations or the judgment of an international organization unless that nation has agreed to compromise its autonomy, which the United States has not.

I think it’s imperative that Vatican officials make it clear when they are speaking as a nation with a foreign policy and when they are speaking as a Church making a doctrinal judgment. This distinction is rarely invoked, and the media is either unaware of it or chooses to take advantage of the confusion. The Vatican as a nation has the right and duty to pursue a foreign policy and to carry on diplomatic negotiations; these actions should be scrupulously distinguished from its social teaching.

What I would respectfully ask the Curia to consider is whether these internationalist assumptions aren’t giving the UN a level of moral credibility that will backfire on the Church. Isn’t it better, given the well-known disposition of the UN, for Catholics to continue regarding it with skepticism? Why give the UN any moral leverage when it will certainly use it against us one day? Many Catholics I know have labored mightily to counteract the damage done by UNFPA around the world, and now the Vatican seems to be saying, “On population issues, the UN can’t be trusted, but on whether a war is just, its judgment is impeccable.”

I just don’t get it.

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