U.N. Committee to Vatican: Change Church Teaching

Catholic experts on how the U.N. operates say this week’s controversial report demonstrates the out-of-control radicalism of the committees that monitor United Nations treaties.

UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. committee’s report that said the Holy See should change its moral teachings in order to comply with an international treaty on children’s rights is the latest example in a 20-year history of U.N. bureaucrats trying to coerce member states into accepting secularist values, according to several Catholic observers of the international body.

“This was a ‘gift from God,’ and the reason is because it points out to a huge audience the radicalism of the United Nations’ treaty monitoring bodies, who have been doing things like this for years,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a non-governmental organization that monitors the United Nations.

Since 1994, when the Holy See successfully fought back efforts to declare abortion an international human right during a U.N. conference in Cairo, abortion advocates and their allies, according to a C-FAM white paper, have looked to further their agenda by relying upon U.N. committees, known as treaty bodies, to interpret international human-rights treaties to cover topics not mentioned in the actual treaties, such as wider access to birth control, permissive abortion laws and the legalization of same-sex “marriages.”

“These treaty bodies have been sort of inclined to aggrandize for their own power, and they’ve done it by controlling the process by which countries report on their implementation of these treaties,” said Stefano Gennarini, the director of C-FAM’s Center for Legal Studies.

“What the treaty bodies have done is adopt practices that have given them more and more control over the dialogue, and they have started making observations and recommendations that are always more and more intrusive. The recommendations get more and more extravagant. Really, what’s happening is these treaty bodies are running amok and overstepping their mandate,” Gennarini told the Register.

For example, recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women — the treaty body that monitors nations’ implementation of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women — resulted in Colombia’s Supreme Court decision in 2005 to legalize abortion in some circumstances, according to C-FAM.

The Colombian high court pointed to the treaty body’s nonbinding "concluding observations" as an established legal precedent to liberalize the country’s abortion laws.

Ruse told the Register that treaty bodies’ nonbinding resolutions were also cited by parliament members to legalize same-sex "marriage" in Spain.

“Law professors and human-rights lawyers will take these nonbinding observations to say there is a new (legal) norm that governments must adhere to,” Ruse said.


Pre-Determined Conclusions?

The latest apparent intrusion into a member state’s affairs is a report, released Feb. 5, from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, an 18-member treaty body designated with monitoring the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

In its report, the U.N. committee criticized the Holy See for its handling of the international clergy sex-abuse crisis. The committee said it was “gravely concerned” that the Holy See did not take “necessary measures” to address the crisis and protect children. The committee also accused the Holy See of adopting policies and practices that led to the continuation of clergy sex abuse and shielding of predator-priests.

Those criticisms followed a Jan. 16 public hearing in Geneva, where several members of the U.N. committee actually complimented the Catholic Church for the steps it had taken over the past decade to prevent sex abuse and protect children.

“The fact that the document did not capture the dialogue that took place last month in Geneva shows it was prepared ahead of time, and nothing changed after the dialogue,” Gennarini said. “That shows this was ideological, that whoever wanted to attack the Church in the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights prepared the report, and they were going to do it regardless of what the Holy See said in the dialogue.”

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio on Feb. 5 that the U.N. committee’s analysis “in some ways is not up to date,” because it did not take “into account some of the clear and precise explanations that were given to the committee in the encounter that the delegation of the Holy See had with the committee three or four weeks ago.”

The committee’s report even referenced the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland as an institution that forced girls “to work in slavery-like conditions” while being subject to “inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment” that included physical and sexual abuse. However, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said a report sponsored by the Irish government found the laundries scandal to be false.

“The [U.N.] panel needs to get up to speed, assuming it has any real interest in this issue,” the Catholic League’s president, William Donohue, said in an online statement.


Church Teachings Attacked

However, it was what the U.N. committee said in its 15-page report about Church teachings on homosexuality, contraception and abortion — and how those teachings supposedly relate to child welfare — that has touched a nerve in the Catholic community.

“This committee is telling a religion to change their teaching,” Ruse said. “That is the most outrageous thing that this committee has ever done.”

The committee said it “urges” the Holy See to “review its position on abortion” because “it places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls.” The committee even said that the Catholic Church should amend Canon 1398, which relates to abortion, to identify circumstances under which abortion can be permitted.

The committee also said it was “seriously concerned about the negative consequences” of Church teaching on contraception, going as far as to tell the Holy See that “reproductive health education” — understood by the U.N. to include contraception — should be part of the mandatory curriculum in Catholic schools, with special attention on preventing early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

In addition, the committee said the Church’s teaching on homosexuality contributes to stigmatization and encourages violence against homosexuals, “transgendered” teenagers and children of same-sex couples. The committee also said Catholic-school textbooks should not have “gender stereotyping” and added that the Church’s promotion of the complementarity and dignity of the sexes differs “from equality in law and practice.”

Archbishop Tomasi told Vatican Radio that the committee apparently had difficulty in understanding the positions of the Holy See, which cannot compromise teachings that are “part of their deep convictions and also an expression of freedom of religion.”

The archbishop also said the Holy See delegation will “need time to reflect carefully on the conclusions and recommendations of the committee” in order “to prepare an adequate response so that the objective may really be pursued.”


U.S. Catholics Respond

However, in the United States, several high-profile members of the Catholic community were quick to respond to the United Nations report. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote on her blog that the U.N. report was “weakened” by including objections to Catholic moral teaching.

“This seems to violate the U.N.’s obligation from its earliest days to defend religious freedom,” Sister Mary Ann wrote, adding that the committee’s straying into the culture wars “undermines its noble cause and trades concern for children to concern for organizations with other agendas.”

Meanwhile, Anne Hendershott, a sociology professor and director of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, told the Register that she would have liked to have seen a stronger response from the Holy See delegation.

“Maybe they need to get angry once in a while,” Hendershott said. “You don’t engage when someone calls you a pedophile protector. There can be no negotiating when someone makes those kinds of false allegations.”

Hendershott and other Catholic observers of the U.N. also believe the committee’s report is the latest example of a systematic attempt to silence and marginalize the Catholic Church.

“The elites at the U.N. want total population control, and the Vatican is the big block to that,” Hendershott said. “The Catholic Church is the last thing standing in the way of that.”

Brian Scarnecchia, a human life and legal studies professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Ave Maria School of Law, also told the Register that, from the point of view of some in the United Nations, it is necessary that the moral authority of the Catholic Church be discredited by “any and every means.”

“The elite players at the U.N. are in the process of transforming the U.N. from an intergovernmental organization into a centralized governing body. The only other supranational organization that exists today is the Holy See,” said Scarnecchia, who every year takes a group of university students to the United Nations in New York to sit in on the U.N.’s annual Commission on the Status of Women.

The missions of the United Nations and the Holy See, Scarnecchia said, are “compatible and complementary,” but he said the U.N. has been co-opted into a vehicle for radical social change. The result, Scarnecchia added, is a constant refrain that the Church is on the wrong side of history.

He said, “The truth is the truth, however, and but for the Church, humanity would have given up long ago in its march towards a progressive realization of authentic human rights.”

Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.