National Catholic Register


Bishop James McHugh

BY Jim Cosgrove

April 11-17, 1999 Issue | Posted 4/11/99 at 2:00 AM


A veteran of the Cairo conference, he also represented the Holy See in New York at the U.N. “preparatory committee” population meeting March 24-31, and knows firsthand the importance of giving the Church a voice in this debate. He spoke with Register correspondent Edward Mulholland.

Mulholland: What are the Holy See's priorities in these negotiations at the preparatory committee meeting?

Bishop McHugh: We want to restore emphasis on the theme of the Cairo conference, which was population and development. Development seems to have been lost. The demographers have tried to establish the link between population increase and decrease — the latter is becoming a problem in more and more nations — and development. It is a responsibility of all nations to collaborate in this enterprise. We are here exercising a moral role to urge the developing nations to construct policies in a truly global sense.

What particular items are you insisting on?

First and foremost, on marriage and the family. In these proceedings, sexuality is extrapolated from marriage — a reality apparently unknown and misunderstood. Sexual pleasure, drive and “health” are treated as individual priorities. The emphasis once again falls upon individualism, not mutual responsibility. Marriage has to be reaffirmed as the context of sexuality. We are involved here in a defensive effort to prevent the spread of this individualism and libertarianism.

We then insist on the family as the basic social unit. This is time and again reaffirmed in the U.N. documents. We speak on behalf of socioeconomic policies that support the family.

Another issue is so-called emergency contraception. I explained before a meeting of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] this morning that these methods are potentially abortifacient. If “emergency contraception” becomes universally accepted, they will start promoting more aggressive means. It all has to do with the philosophical debate of when life begins.

Isn't it a medical question?

These questions are not exclusively medical or scientific. There are different philosophical viewpoints on when human life begins. But the burden of proof, I would say, is on those who deny that life begins at conception.

In one of your interventions you spoke of migration. Is this a priority?

Yes. The Church has always served migrants and refugees. Just look at the history of the United States. The Church welcomed the immigrants, schooled them, the newcomers built their communities around the parishes, the Church taught them English while continuing to minister to them in the native tongue many still spoke at home. This was true for the U.S. and is true today in many parts of the world.

Another important issue is aging, because the world is aging. The needs of older persons need to be served. We speak of the dignity of the elderly and of the unborn in the same breath. We are insisting on this. We must highlight this issue in our demographic studies. Our commitment to life includes the elderly, the disabled.

Some would say the Church shouldn't have a voice in this political and international arena.

A cursory glance at the Statistical Yearbook of the Holy See shows how the Church maintains hospitals, clinics, orphanages, homes for the elderly, schools, etc., by the thousands. Priests, religious and dedicated members of the laity have literally given their lives to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We have a lot to add to these debates.