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The Madman's Speech

by Tim Madigan

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 13, Number 1.

Suffer The Little Children

The Vatican has long been an expert at playing politics. Nowhere is this more evident today than at the United Nations, where it maintains "observer status" - taking advantage of its peculiar claim to be both the headquarters of a world religion and a state. (Will Salt Lake City be the next to claim this distinction?) This special status allows the Vatican to meddle in political affairs while acting as if it is above the battle. In fact, the so-called Holy See's own Permanent Observer Mission statement says that: "As a full member of the international community, the Holy See finds itself in a very particular situation, because it is spiritual in nature. Its authority ... is religious and not political ... The real and only realm of the Holy See is the realm of conscience." Tell that to Pope Pius IX, who fought like the devil to prevent the unification of Italy and the loss of the Papal State property.

The Church continues to flex its significant muscle at the UN. The latest example of this is its announcement on November 4th that it would not donate its annual pledge to UNICEF, the UN's children's fund. This symbolic contribution of $2,000.00 is in-and-of-itself just a small drop in the bucket for an agency with an operating budget of over $1 billion. But the ripple effect will be huge. The Vatican also announced that it "felt duty-bound to warn the Catholic faithful" about UNICEF's alleged advocacy of birth control and abortion in its family planning work. Since a significant amount of UNICEF funding comes from private donations, including the sale of greeting cards in Catholic institutions, this is sure to have an detrimental impact.

UNICEF officials were quick to kowtow to this threat (almost as quick as Bill Clinton was to kowtow to Jesse Helms's opposition to the re-election of Boutros Boutros-Ghali as UN Secretary-General). They issued a statement assuring the world that UNICEF's policies were "consistent with that of the Holy See." They added that "as a matter of policy," UNICEF "does not advocate any particular method of family planning, believing this to be a matter best decided by people themselves in accordance with their needs, values and preferences." Interestingly, several polls have shown that an overwhelming number of Catholic families throughout the world prefer artificial means of birth control to help reduce birth rates. Nonetheless, the Church followed through on its threat, apparently not overly concerned that the work UNICEF does to help combat poverty, illiteracy and childhood diseases would also be threatened by the loss of funding. Suffer the little children indeed.

Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), an organization at odds with its own hierarchy's official stance on birth control and abortion, has made a symbolic gesture, sending UNICEF a check for $2,000.00, and urging concerned individuals to send their own contributions in defiance of the Church's stricture. Frances Kissling, president of CFFC, wrote in the December 16th issue of The Nation that:

... it may shock some that the Vatican finds it objectionable that where rape is an instrument of war, women have access to medical treatment - including the "morning after" pill - that would prevent pregnancy. But the church is headed by a Pope who exhorted raped Bosnian women not to have abortions but instead "to accept the enemy" and make him "flesh of their flesh." Unfortunately, this kind of pressure is the rule, not the exception. The Vatican is increasingly involved in policy-making arenas like the UN, where it uses its nonmember permanent observer status and its clout as a provider of humanitarian assistance to extract conformity to its anti-family-planning agenda.

CFFC has also started a campaign to have the UN status of the Holy See reviewed, and changed to that of a nongovernmental organization (NGO), where it could advocate for its specific religious perspective along with dozens of other denominations. The Council for Secular Humanism signed on as a supporter of this petition. The International Humanist and Ethical Union, another NGO which was co-founded by Sir Julian Huxley, the first Secretary-General of UNESCO, is sponsoring a conference in London, England from June 20-22 that will discuss the importance of the United Nations and its various charitable agencies, and why the humanist community should continue to support them.

If the Vatican really wants to be a state, perhaps it should apply for full membership and pay its dues, instead of making token contributions. Of course, not all the full members do pay their dues - as "retiring" Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali remarked in his farewell address, the United States is $1.3 billion in arrears. Even the Vatican would be hard-pressed to run up a debt that high.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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