Austin Ruse is the president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), which recently won “special consultative status” from the United Nations as a non-governmental organization (NGO).
C-FAM has participated in every major U.N. social-policy negotiation since it was founded in 1997. From the beginning, its mission has been to “monitor and affect the social-policy debate at the United Nations and other major international institutions,” dedicated towards “re-establishing a proper understanding of international law, protecting national sovereignty and the dignity of the human person.”
This week, news that the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child had strongly criticized the Holy See for its response to the clergy sexual abuse of minors also made headlines. The committee not only accused the Vatican of putting its institutional reputation ahead of the safety of children, it also criticized Church teaching on homosexuality for stigmatizing people with same-sex attraction and attacked Catholic doctrine that bans direct abortion and contraception.
On Feb. 5, the Vatican issued a statement that defended its efforts to address the global scourge of clergy abuse.
That same day, Ruse spoke with Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond about the U.N. committee’s criticism of the Vatican and C-FAM’s new status.
The United Nations recently approved C-FAM’s application for “special consultative status” as a non-government organization (NGO). What does that mean, and why is that a breakthrough for a feisty pro-life, pro-marriage group like C-FAM?
“Special consultative status “ means you get a badge to get into the United Nations. We have always had access, but we always wore the badges of other organizations that had accreditation.
Here is the thing about this kind of status: I have been offended that you need the U.N.’s approval to get a redress of your grievance. In the U.S., anyone can go to their state capitol or Congress and knock on the door of their representative. They don’t need special approval or a badge. This is a little offensive to my “small d” democratic principles.
Is your new status more than a formality?
It is not a formality. It means my organization has been accepted into the U.N. system.
First and foremost, it gives us access to the buildings and to the negotiations where NGOs are allowed. You can make speeches at negotiating sessions and submit your own reports into the U.N. system.
You first applied for this status last year. Why did you wait so long?
This designation can be difficult to get, and some organizations have been deferred.
We were advised years ago by the apostolic nuncio, then-Archbishop Renato Martino, not even to try for accreditation because he suspected we would be blocked, because of our Friday Fax and the fact that we have gone hammer and tongs after U.N. agencies and powerful NGOs. And after we did apply, we were blocked for six months by Israel, Turkey and Belgium.
Israel, for example, was aghast that we hold the position that abortion is not allowed for any reason or under any circumstances — which is odd, because that is the position of a number of member states of the U.N.
Belgium went onto our blog, Turtle Bay and Beyond, and found a post by one of our colleagues in Europe, a senior civil servant in the European Commission writing under a nom de plume. He had linked to an essay by a British writer about the issue of gender equality in the military, and the Belgians demanded to know if we believed in equality.
So we were “deferred” until this session that just concluded.
During that session, we found out about negotiations that involved our side standing down in opposition to the Kinsey Institute, in exchange for the other side standing down on us. Afterward, an NGO from the other side was lamenting that we got through, though she was happy Kinsey got through. She called it a “dirty trade.” We are not liked by the abortion set.
We have friends, too, besides the Holy See, and that includes the Russians. Last time and this time, they were extremely supportive of our application. They have become very pro-life and very pro-family.
Where does the debate on abortion, sexuality and related matters stand at the U.N. these days?
Twenty years ago, the other side tried for a straight-up reference to a “right to abortion” at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, and they failed.
They have not advanced their agenda even one syllable since that time. For 20 years, they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man-hours to get nothing. On abortion, we are doing pretty darn well.
At the U.N., sexual orientation and gender identity are really the focus of the debate about the family. Half the General Assembly is against the gay narrative. But the other half wants “sexual orientation “and “gender identity” to become new categories of non-discrimination in international law, similar to freedom of religion. But they have no chance of getting that approved.
On both questions, the U.N. bureaucracy is thoroughly against us, but the General Assembly is generally with us. Within the U.N., the coalition for an international right to an abortion and the gay narrative is largely the rich North vs. the poor South, including leftist governments like Ecuador and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
How much influence does the United States have?
During the Bush administration, it was totally isolated because of the Iraq War. So, often, it was the Bush administration and the Holy See against the rest of the world. But now our coalition has jelled again.
Generally, the U.S. has a great deal of influence in the Security Council on issues dealing with war and peace. But on social issues, they are just another country in the General Assembly.
What are C-FAM’s present goals?
Our goals are always the same — a restoration of a proper understanding of international law and, in the process, stopping [efforts to promote a] right to abortion and a redefinition of marriage.
We have participated in a coalition of organizations and governments that has really stopped the radicals’ advance at the U.N.
If a right to abortion was affirmed in U.N. documents, what impact would that have on abortion laws throughout the world?
Most of the documents passed in the U.N. are non-binding resolutions. They don’t have any effect in law, but they do suggest there is a new international norm afoot.
From time to time, the U.N. will negotiate a hard-law treaty. But, generally, the problem is the issue of “customary international law,” which is law that’s not written down but is agreed to by all nations. The best example of that is freedom of diplomats. All governments understand that diplomats travel freely, especially when they are doing their work. That was achieved through “customary international law.” Everyone agrees.
Radicals today argue that putting the phrase “reproductive health” in a thousand documents establishes a right to an abortion through customary international law, and this is false.
On Feb. 5, a U.N. panel attacked the Vatican’s handling of cases involving clergy sexual abuse of minors. Following its review of the Holy See’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child stated, “The Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.” What is your response to these charges?
My response is that I’m not surprised, because the radicals at the U.N. despise the Church and are happy to take any opportunity to give the Church a black eye. What is most appalling about this report is the temerity of the U.N. to tell the Holy See to change central teachings of the Church on abortion, homosexuality and contraception. It makes my blood boil.
But the U.N. isn’t the only critic of the Catholic Church’s record on addressing the clergy sexual abuse of minors. Article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for children to be protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
I don’t recognize this committee’s authority to grill the Church even on this issue, because the Holy See, in ratifying the treaty, was ratifying it for the Vatican city state and not for the Church worldwide.
Any incidence of abuse — in Ireland, for example — should be addressed to the Irish government, not the Holy See. Within the parameters of this treaty, the Holy See has made it clear that [clergy sexual abuse] should be addressed by the government of the country where the alleged crimes occurred.
Even worse is the committee telling the Church to let kids have sex, to let kids have condoms and to let kids have abortions.
Can you provide additional context for the U.N. committee’s decision to raise this issue in the first place?
Every U.N. treaty has a committee before which signatory states must appear and report. The committee goes through the treaty, and they discuss how the country is implementing different areas and what areas need improvement.
These committees have a tendency to go beyond the four walls of the treaty. In fact, the treaty is silent on abortion, and so this committee had no right to go into that topic.
But much of the committee’s work is done through shadow reports from radical advocacy groups, many of them in the U.S. They inform the understanding of the committee about how the country is implementing the treaty, and many of the questions come from these reports.
Will the committee’s criticism of the Holy See have any consequences beyond the work of this committee?
The thing to know about these reports is that they have no force, and there is no mechanism for enforcement. What they are used for is to beat governments up with. Sometimes they are used to bring lawsuits or change in laws through parliaments. The left uses these reports to suggest there are new norms that perhaps the government is not living up to.
For instance, the implication of the report is that there is some kind of treaty obligation to change Church teaching on abortion, contraception and fornication. Otherwise, why would the committee bring them up? So they are used to cause great mischief; and, in this case, to give the Church a black eye. Already, you see it being used this way by the lazy legacy media.
Why is it important for groups like C-FAM to stay engaged with the work of the U.N., and what is your long-term mission?
It is vital for people of faith to be present at the U.N. debate. Simply being present is enough to throw our enemies off their game. And when you do more than watch, when you lobby, build coalitions, write reports, tell the world, well, then you can really have an impact. It hasn’t been just governments at the U.N. that have stopped a right to abortion. It was also groups like ours.
Our long-term mission: to stop a right to abortion, to stop a redefinition of the family, to block the radical advance [of these agendas]. And then to see if we can turn the U.N. back to its original purpose.
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.