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Letters & Op-Eds - 2000

choices

See Change Campaign Gathers Support; Irks Vatican

Frances Kissling

Vol. 28, No.1, 2000

The Vatican's attempts to obstruct general agreement on matters relating to reproductive health and choices have led to a campaign to change its privileged status at the UN, a campaign which is rapidly gaining strength.

Senior Vatican spokesmen have been forced to respond to the 'See Change' campaign that aims to change the status of the Vatican at the United Nations (UN). The conservative Italian news agency Zenit quoted two official Vatican spokesmen forcefully outlining their objections to the campaign. "What privileges are they referring to?" Archbishop Renato Martino, Vatican Permanent Observer at the United Nations, asked the Italian daily Avvenire. "In fact, the Holy See has had both an active and passive right of legation since the 4th century. Its international juridical status is universally recognized. How can a seat at the UN be considered a privilege, when the Holy See has had stable diplomatic relations for centuries with a great number of countries?" The official Holy See's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls apparently "dismissed" the 'See Change' Campaign as "a clumsy attempt to silence the Catholic Church".

The Vatican's response follows news that the campaign has been garnering incredible support from throughout the world and condemnation of the Vatican from UK Secretary of State for International Development Claire Short who denounced the Holy See's delegation at the United Nations. The Vatican was steering a "morally destructive course" that would lead to increased incidence of illegal abortion, unwanted pregnancy and HIV/ AIDS, according to Short. For a senior UK politician to speak out against another UN delegation and state that it was playing a "deeply obstructive role" and was in an "unholy alliance with reactionary forces" is a significant move away from the diplomatic tones normally associated with the UN. But given the Vatican's stance on reproductive rights and choices, it was a vital statement in support of those who become ill or even die as a result of the Catholic church's policies.

Non-governmental organizations also challenged the Vatican. Both the Youth Delegation and a wide coalition of women's organizations issued open letters questioning Vatican positions in light of the church's teachings, especially its strong commitment to the poor and marginalized, many of whom are women.

The Holy See's attempts to obstruct general agreement on matters relating to reproductive health and choices at the UN are well known and generally supported by only a few countries, principally Sudan, Libya, Morocco, Argentina and Guatemala. Notably, however, a number of countries with large Catholic populations -- including Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Venezuela and Peru -- spoke out in favour of policies that directly contradicted church positions and Holy See interventions.

Thousands of people and hundreds of NGOs from all corners of the globe have taken action against the Vatican. A postcard campaign, initiated by Catholics for a Free Choice, has called for a review of the Vatican's 'state' status. The 'See Change' campaign is long overdue, and is a response to years of Vatican obstructionism at the United Nations. Supporters of the campaign believe that the Roman Catholic church should participate in the United Nations in the same way as the world's other religions do -- as non-governmental organizations -- and have called on the UN Secretary-General to review the church's current status.

The Vatican should be able to add its voice to public policy debates, but not on the same basis as governments that can be held accountable by those who will be directly affected by its health care policies. International health issues like these are too important to allow the leaders of one religion to sit as equals with governments at the policy table.

'See Change' campaign postcards can be signed online at a special website www.seechange.org to show support for this important initiative. Postcards for supporters can also be ordered from:

The 'See Change' Campaign
1436 U Street, NW, #301, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Tel: +1 202 986 6093
Fax: +1 202 332 7995
E-mail info@seechange.org

This article appeared in Choices, Vol. 28, No.1, 2000