WASHINGTON — The effort to muzzle the Vatican's voice at the United Nations is meeting a new potential roadblock: Congress.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., introduced a Senate resolution Feb. 24 condemning the efforts of pro-abortion groups that wants to remove the Holy See from its status as a permanent observer at the United Nations.

Santorum told the Register that keeping the Holy See in the United Nations is “very important” because of its ability “in organizing other countries to oppose the radical, pro-abortion agenda” that currently dominates U.N. policy.

Santorum noted that the Vatican has no vote in the General Assembly, just a voice at the table. Apparently that is too much for abortion activists, he said.

“Again, it's the intolerance of the left,” Santorum said. “When you disagree with them, they just want to shut you up.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., agreed.

“The whole idea is to silence the Church,” Smith said. “It's not at all different from the attempts to remove Israel 10 years ago.” Smith introduced a resolution similar to Santorum's into the House on Feb. 16.

Both resolutions state that Congress wishes to “commend the Holy See for its unique contributions to a thoughtful and robust dialogue in issues of international concern during its 36 years as a permanent observer at the United Nations.”

Both “strongly object to any effort to expel the Holy See from the United Nations as a state participant by removing its status as a nonmember state permanent observer.” The resolutions also say “that any degradation of the status accorded to the Holy See would seriously damage the credibility of the United Nations by demonstrating that its rules of participation are manipulable for ideological reasons rather than being rooted in neutral principles and objective facts of sovereignty.”

The Holy See's office at the United Nations would not comment because the organizers of the effort were a nongovernmental organization.

U.N. activist Austin Ruse called the resolutions “historic.” Such a defense of the Pope “has never come before the U.S. Congress before,” he said.

Ruse keeps a watchful eye on the United Nations from across the street as head of the Manhattan-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, also known as CFAM.

“I don't see how you could vote against this,” said Ruse. “Only the most radical pro-abortion activists could vote against this.”

This resolution will pass easily because even pro-abortion congressmen will see through this campaign against the Vatican, he said. “This is a vote for religious tolerance.”

A State or a Religion?

Leading the charge behind the campaign to remove the Vatican from the General Assembly is an pro-abortion organization called Catholics for Free Choice. The organization's leader, Frances Kissling, told the Register that the Vatican represented a religion, not a government.

“The goal of the campaign is to get the U.N. to review the status to make a determination whether the Holy See fits the definition of a state; we don't think so,” said Kissling.

“If it's the government of the Roman Catholic Church, then it is not a state, it is a religion,” she said.

Asked whether 16 centuries of diplomacy with treaties and ambassadors proved that the Holy See was a state, Kissling said, “This is not the fourth century.”

Kissling predicted that the effort to remove the Vatican from the General Assembly “will win in the long run.”

Small, but Influential

Such comments were unconvincing to Santorum. “Well, they are a state,” he said. “They have a geographically identifiable territory.” He said the Vatican is no less a state than other small nation-states such as Monaco or Liechtenstein. He noted that the Holy See has ambassadors in more than 160 countries, including the United States.

Ruse said the abortion activists realize that removing the Vatican will be tough, but he believes there is another motive behind the move.

“The purpose is not to kick the Vatican out of the U.N.,” he contended. “It's to intimidate the Holy See delegation and her allies.”

“We're not trying to kick the Vatican out,” insisted Kissling. “There are many ways that the Roman Catholic Church can remain involved. All of the other religions are active in the U.N.”

Rep. Smith noted that when it entered the United Nations, the Holy See had the opportunity to have a vote in the General Assembly, similar to other small countries such as Luxembourg and Monaco. But it chose not to have a vote, probably to be less controversial, Smith said.

Under the plans recommended by abortion activists, Smith said, the Vatican would be reclassified as a nongovernment organization. Smith panned that demotion. “You and I could form an NGO,” he noted.

Support for the Vatican

Santorum and Smith are looking for additional supporters in Congress and could not yet indicate when a floor vote would occur.

Only days after introducing the resolutions, Santorum and Smith won the support of two Democrats, who, like the sponsors, are Catholic: Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Rep. Jim Barcia, D-Mich.

Said Santorum, “We're hoping for strong bipartisan support.”