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The Vatican’s obstructionism on women’s rights and reproductive rights at the UN forced a response from international NGOs.

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“The Catholic Church at the United Nations: Church or State?” tells the story of how the Catholic church came to be the only religion with the privileges of a state at the United Nations. As the Holy See, representatives of the Catholic church use direct access to the UN’s General Assembly and influential international conferences to impose an ultraconservative agenda on the global population, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Ever since it was informally accepted at the United Nations in 1964, questions have been asked about what the Holy See does with the place it has made for itself among the states, and whether it deserves that place at all.

Is there a legitimate basis for the Holy See to be regarded as a state?

The Holy See claims that its possession of a territorial entity—Vatican City—qualifies it as a state. Yet, according to the criteria established by international treaty, Vatican City may not be considered a state. The Holy See and the Roman Catholic church both fail the same test and neither can be considered a state.

So why does the Holy See enjoy privileges otherwise reserved for states?

The Holy See acquired its status at the UN through a process of custom, rather than consensus. In fact, the Holy See owes its status at the UN to the early membership of Vatican City in the Universal Postal Union and the International Telecommunication Union.

Today, in stark contrast to other religions, which participate like most other nonstate entities—as nongovernmental organizations—the leadership of the Catholic church enjoys unparalleled access and influence at the UN.

How does the Holy See use its privileged position to limit sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)?

Official documents from the major UN conferences on women, population and development in the past 20 years are replete with objections by the Holy See to the majority consensus, which generally favored the expansion and strengthening of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. The Holy See has opposed the use of terms previously accepted by consensus, such as “gender” and the expansion of human rights to include topics that contradict ultraorthodox interpretations of Catholicism, such as SRHR and gay rights. As a Nonmember State Permanent Observer, the Holy See is able to place items on the provisional agenda of the General Assembly, and it enjoys greater access to the plenary sessions of the UN and its main committees, as well as to the Security Council.

What is The “See Change” Campaign?

Hundreds of organizations and thousands of people worldwide have initiated a campaign to change the status of the Roman Catholic church at the United Nations. We are calling on the Secretary-General to review the church's current status as a nonmember State Permanent Observer. We believe that the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic church, should participate in the UN in the same way as the world's other religions do—as a nongovernmental organization.

For more information, please email us.