National Catholic Register


Vatican and Islam: the U.N.‘s Strange Bedfellows

BY Jay Dunlap

August 22-28, 1999 Issue | Posted 8/22/99 at 2:00 PM


UNITED NATIONS—When the Vatican stands up to opposes United Nations' population programs that promote contraception, sterilization and abortion, its allies typically include Islamic countries.

Even Sudan, a country in which Christians are severely persecuted, can be counted on to collaborate with the Holy See in its struggle against U.N. programs that oppose the best interests of the family.

Austin Ruse, director of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute in New York, has worked to build up the Vatican-Islamic partnership on the crucial population issues that are the regular fare of U.N. deliberations. He recently spoke with Register Radio News correspondent Jay Dunlap.

Jay Dunlap: How did these two “strange bedfellows” come together?

Austin Ruse: In 1994, the Holy Father called for people of faith to go to the Cairo conference on population and development because he knew some bad things were going to happen there. A natural affinity between the Catholic and the Muslim worlds developed—to great criticism from a lot of “tony quarters.” They use the most extreme terms—“conservative Roman Catholic states” and the “criminal states of the Middle East”—when describing the [informal] alliance. But it endures because there is a great common ground on life and family questions that is shared by Catholicism and Islam.

Are we seeing what philosopher Peter Kreeft called an “ecumenical jihad,” an “ecumenical holy war,” in which the world's conservative religions are banding together to fight secularization?

We, as believing and practicing Catholics, have much more in common with Islam in the Middle East than we do with Francis Kissling, who runs Catholics for a Free Choice. So, yes, this is precisely what we are seeing.

Islam lacks a teaching magisterium. Is there one Islamic teaching regarding contraception and abortion?

We do not have a seamless alliance with Islam. Sadly, they are not fully with us on contraception and they are not fully with us on abortion. What they are fully with us on is the inviolability of the family. I have been with Muslim diplomats who say that abortion is a decision for the family; if the family decides that it is appropriate, then they will go ahead and do it.

How do they view our practices in this area?

They regard the high abortion rates in the West as an outgrowth of the rampant promiscuity of our people, and if they ever experience the same phenomenon they might do the same thing. But, no, they are not completely with us doctrinally on these issues.

So it's more about the sacredness of the family?

That's right. They're keenly interested in fertility rates that ensure growing populations. And the reason that you introduce contraception, sterilization and abortion into a population is to engender selfishness and therefore a lower fertility rate.

Are the Islamic countries reacting against the contraceptive imperialism so prevalent in the United Nations?

They are, but not all of them. Again, it's not a seamless situation. Not all Catholic countries are with us, and neither are all Muslim countries. Qatar will be for us [on most things]. Iran is with us on some questions related to homosexuality, but will be against us on some issues regarding contraception. Our work at the United Nations is very akin to fiddling around with a Rubik's cube.

No simple puzzle, is it?

Not at all. Some of our closest allies at the U.N. are the Sudan and Libya, who are viewed as enemies of the United States and, in the case of Sudan, enemies of Christianity. But on questions of life and family there are none better because they agree with us and because they will stand up and speak.

Why is that important?

First and foremost, the United Nations is a place where people come and talk. If you don't talk then you might as well not even be there. There are no votes taken at the United Nations. They move towards consensus. If any one or two or three governments are against certain language, then that language is thrown out. But that happens only if a country stands up and speaks. The Sudan and Libya stand up and speak for families, including Christian families, all the time.

In Europe the native populations are in decline, especially in Western Europe where there is also an influx of Muslim immigrants with large families. Are we seeing a self-inflicted fall at the heart of Christendom?

Absolutely. I would much rather have a believing and practicing Muslim next door to me than a pagan. Europe is pagan. I regret that it has turned away from the Church and away from the faith, but I would rather see them be Muslim than pagan.

How does this “pagan Europe” manifest itself?

Just this last week there was a move of this type at the meetings to establish an international criminal court. France, the Church's “eldest daughter,” attempted to remove the priest-penitent privilege from the rules of procedure for the new court. This is despicable. And the Muslim states will stand up for the priest-penitent privilege that has traditionally been enjoyed by all clergy and all religions. Who do we have more in common with?

How are demographics changing in Europe?

Because of the rampant spread of contraception, sterilization and abortion, there are now 61 countries—mostly in the industrialized West—who are at what is known as “below replacement fertility.” Replacement fertility is roughly 2.1 children per family, depending on certain circumstances.

What kind of circumstances?

For example, If a country has a very highly developed medical system, then 2.1 is fine. But if it has bad hospitals it may need 2.4 or 2.5 children per woman to replace its population and to stay at its current level of, let's say, 15 or 20 million people. Even if they stay right there, it means that they are no longer growing.

What will that mean?

It means their population is rapidly aging. Just a year ago, Japan passed an incredible milestone. There are now more Japanese over the age of 65 than under the age of 15. This means the population is aging and will begin to shrink. We—in the history of the world—have never done this to ourselves, and we don't know what's going to happen. There could be a kind of intergenerational warfare, for example.

Who are some of the other “worst offenders”?

Countries like Latvia, which is now at 1.1 children per woman. Italy is at 1.5; Spain is at 1.5—two Catholic countries. There are some cities in Italy, including Bologna, that are at 0.8 children per woman. This is child-hating on a grand scale.

What is the replacement rate in Islamic countries?

It depends on where you go. Some Islamic countries, including Iran, actually have a program that encourages fertility reduction. For the most part, though, their rates are higher than they are in the West. Just know that.

—Jay Dunlap