Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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When Pope Benedict XVI speaks at the United Nations this month, one Catholic group will take particular satisfaction in the fact that he will come with a special status among nations rather than as an outsider.
BY STEPHEN VINCENT REGISTER CORRESPONDENT
NEW YORK — When Pope Benedict XVI speaks at the United
Nations this month, one Catholic group will take particular satisfaction in the
fact that he will come with a special status among nations rather than as an
The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam) was
at the forefront of an effort to keep the Holy See’s permanent observer status
at the United Nations against a push by pro-abortion groups, led by the
so-called Catholics for a Free Choice, to remove the Vatican from official
standing at the international body.
The effort to oust the Holy See was an indication of the
Vatican’s effectiveness in defending human rights and the family, and in
rallying other nations against a drive to add abortion as a basic human right
in U.N. documents, said Austin Ruse, president of C-Fam.
“The Holy See is the oldest continuous government in the
world and maintains diplomatic relations with most of the nations in the world,”
Ruse said recently. “To say that it does not deserve status in the United
Nations because it stands for peace and justice and the smallest and most
defenseless human beings is an absurdly narrow viewpoint that was rightly
The highly charged battle, beginning in 1999, also raised
the profile of the fledgling C-Fam and won the organization thousands of new
“It was a miracle that happened,” Ruse recalled. “When
Catholics for a Free Choice started a campaign to throw out the Holy See, we
risked it all and spent practically our last dollar to respond with a
direct-mail package defending the Holy See. Within six months, we had 12,000
He added, ironically, “I thank Frances Kissling [then head
of Catholics for a Free Choice] for C-Fam’s large list of donors.”
Msgr. Anthony Frontiero, who worked for the Holy See as an
attaché to the United Nations from 1999-2003, said C-Fam was an invaluable
“I worked with C-Fam on many occasions during very difficult
negotiations at the U.N., when the Holy See was making arguments in favor of
the family and life against the pro-death forces,” said Msgr. Frontiero, who
now works at the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice in Rome. “I found
C-Fam especially helpful in that they would read the lengthy U.N. documents
carefully, identify any problem areas and help the Holy See get the word out to
the other delegates who may support our position.”
The drive to defend the United Nations status of the Holy
See underscores both the bold style and traditional values that have marked
C-Fam in its more than 10 years of operation.
When the organization was founded in August 1997, people of
faith and traditional morality had already been alerted to the radical trends
at the United Nations through the Cairo and Beijing conferences on women and
the family, which saw Western nations (including the United States under
President Clinton) seeking to establish abortion as a fundamental human right.
Ruse and his group were in full operation when the five-year
reviews of these conferences were held at the U.N. headquarters. Building on
the work of the Holy See in pulling together support of its positions, Ruse
labored tirelessly to gather a coalition of delegates at the U.N. and a network
of supporters from the outside to form a potent lobbying force to support the
Holy See’s position against abortion and for the traditional family.
The “Friday Fax,” which had the flair of investigative
journalism, was the main instrument in C-Fam’s information arsenal. (It is now
an e-mail that goes to a list of 36,000 and is forwarded to far more readers.)
Written at the time by Doug Sylva, who holds a doctorate from Columbia
University, the weekly bulletins documented the efforts of some delegates to use
the term “reproductive health” as a code word for abortion in U.N. documents.
“One of the major accomplishments of C-Fam was to make
social conservatives of every faith and background aware of what was going on
in the U.N.,” Ruse said.
He said the papal visit will be a highlight of the
organization’s 10th anniversary year. Pope Benedict XVI visits the United
Nations headquarters in New York City on April 18. His speech there will be a
central focus of his visit to the United States.
The organization was founded with seed money from Human Life
International, the pro-life group based in Front Royal, Va. A few months later,
Ruse joined C-Fam, which had one assistant and $10,000 in the bank.
“We were in a small, windowless office near the U.N.,” he
recalled. “We would stand in front of the fax machine and feed the Friday Fax
to a list of about 120, one by one. It was touch and go for a long time, as far
as paying the rent.”
Today, C-Fam has a larger but still windowless office near
the U.N. and another one in Washington, D.C., on K Street, the famous base for
lobbying groups. There are plans for another office in Brussels to monitor the
Ruse lives in Virginia with his wife, the former Cathleen
Cleaver, who was spokeswoman for many years for the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops on pro-life issues and is now a senior fellow for legal studies for the
Family Research Council.
C-Fam’s annual budget is about $1 million, every penny of it
raised from a few large and thousands of smaller donors. There are six
full-time staffers and a number of consultants and interns. In addition to the
weekly e-mail bulletin (still quaintly called the Friday Fax), C-Fam oversees
the International Organizations Research Group, which issues periodic “white
papers” by scholars who explore a single topic in depth. Subjects have included
the involvement of UNICEF in population control efforts. Always on the
international cutting edge, the Friday Fax recently reported that the
constitution of the newly independent Kosovo “threatens unborn children and the
Despite its relatively small budget compared to other
lobbying groups, C-Fam attracts outstanding talent to its staff.
Piero Tozzi recently left his position as an attorney with a
large New York law firm to become C-Fam’s executive vice president and general
counsel. His duties include running the New York office.
Although he is taking a pay cut, Tozzi explained, “C-Fam is
at the forefront of many international legal issues such as the sanctity of
life and the defense of the family. This apostolate is a very important one,
and I had to ask myself how I could best use my talents to serve God.”
Susan Yoshihara joined two years ago as vice president and
recently became head of C-Fam’s think tank that produces the scholarly white
papers. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, she served 20 years as an officer
and was for many years a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, specializing
in national security decision-making and international relations.
She has developed a strategic plan for C-Fam that defined
the mission, vision and core values and produced a new logo, new literature and
a corporate image.
“We are out to realize genuine international law” based on
natural law and the common good, she explained. The core values of the
organization, she added, are “fidelity to the magisterium of the Catholic
Church, professionalism and truth telling.”
One of the main goals of C-Fam is “to publicize the debates
at the U.N.” that often go on behind closed doors.
She said, “We believe that the more you know about the
issues, the more pro-life you will become.”
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.
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