CFC in the News 2003
THE INDEPENDENT (BANGLADESH)

Vatican for Power Expansion in the EU

 

A report released very recently in Washington DC by Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) reveals the goals and methods of a well-funded and orchestrated campaign by the Vatican and Conservative Catholic allies to undermine the European Union’s support of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Members of the European parliament have come out in support of the report and have expressed concern over recent Vatican attempts to interfere in deliberations and decisions of the Parliament. At the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in Rome from October 4 to 7, many issues in the EU Constitutional Treaty have been publicly debated, including reference to the Christian roots of Europe.

The European Union (EU) is a unique political phenomenon of the modern world in which sovereign states have embarked on a voluntary process of closer economic and political cooperation. The original impetus for this co-operation was the bloodshed of World War II, which cost 40 million lives, predominantly in Europe.

After the war, peace emerged as a paramount value for Europeans and efforts were made to weave together the sectors of each nation’s economy that could precipitate a new war, laying the foundation for the EU. In 1949, then western European countries formed an inter-governmental organisation called the Council of Europe, located in Strasbourg, France. In 1951 and 1957 a few agreements were signed among these countries to forge greater co-operation and two important communities i.e. the European Atomic Energy Community and Economic Community were created. The EU was established in Brussels in 1993 by the 12 nations of the European Community. Today the membership stands at 15 nations, and in May 2004, ten more nations will join EU.

The Catholic Church, by which the hierarchy is meant, has been involved with the EU since its beginnings. The “founding fathers” of the European Community were Christian Democrats and practising Catholics. Initial involvement of the church with the EU began with a small group of lay Catholics in Strasbourg under the spiritual direction of the Jesuits. On November 4, 1950, the council of Europe adopted the European convention on Human Rights. Human rights were of central concern to the Vatican, and from that point on it closely monitored the work of the Council of Europe. The Holy See, the governing and the diplomatic body of the Roman Catholic Church, was granted special observer status of at the Council of Europe, alarming it to follow the work of the Council without being a regular member.

It was not until 1970, however, that the Holy See charged its nuncio in Brussels with representing its interests in the European Community. The European bishops arrived in Brussels only in 1980 and formed the commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European Community.

Today, the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the EU takes place in the context of a modern, secular Europe and after the fall of communism. With the threat of communism eliminated the institutional church has come to perceive social liberalism and individual rights as the greatest threats to its beliefs about family, gender, sexuality, and reproduction.

A key element of the challenges to the Catholic Church in Europe lies in the European consensus on re-productive health and sexual rights. The EU and its member nations participated enthusiastically in global efforts such as the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo and the 1995 Fourth International Women’s Conference in Beijing to promote human and reproductive rights for the women and responsible development.

In particular, the ICPD explicitly recognised the role of reproductive health in sustainable development and called for the empowerment of women, both as a matter of social justice and as a vital element in improving the quality of life for all people. It was an historic turning point in the way population policies and programmes are perceived and in how reproductive health services are conceptualised and delivered. All European countries adopted the principles of these key UN conferences and all endorsed the ICPD Programme of Action.

The EU supports a broad range of sexual and reproductive health initiatives in sex key areas:

  1. Increase access to family planning services
  2. Ensuring safe pregnancy and child birth
  3. Promoting sexual and reproductive health of the young people
  4. Limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
  5. Tackling gender based violence and sexual abuse.
  6. Building partnership with civil society.

While the Vatican supports European efforts to become a region marked by peace and security, its conception of the correct moral order and its agenda on issues of sexual and reproductive rights are increasingly marginalised in Europe. As a result, the Vatican has taken steps to reassert and codify its cultural authority.

The report released by Catholics for a Free Choice reveals Vatican efforts to expand power in the European Union, the EU constitution, health policies and funding are all targets for Vatican lobby opposing sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Written for European policy makers and for all citizens concerned about human rights, “Preserving Power and Privilege” provides facts and analysis of the Catholic Church’s efforts, past and present, to influence public policy and secure and extent its power at the EU. The report details exactly what the Vatican, wants included in the constitutional treaty including:

  1. An exemption to discriminate on the grounds of religion or sexual orientation.
  2. A special consultative status not held by any other non-governmental entity.
  3. The mention of God and of Europe’s Christian roots in the constitution.
  4. Funding (sexual and reproductive health/rights)
  5. Abortion (sexual and reproductive health/rights)

“The Catholic hierarchy is seeking to expand and consolidate how it exerts direct influence on EU policy making on sexual and reproductive health and rights to bring it in line with the positions of the church.” stated Elfriede Harth, European representative for CFFC, who contributed to the report.

“While the Vatican certainly has a role to play on the international stage, and Catholic charities do much good work, the Catholic Church is working to impose its view on to the developing legal system of the European Union, and as a result, on to the lives of all European citizens, regardless of their faith.”

In the mater of mentions of God and of Europe’s Christian roots in the constitution a doctrinal note to catholic policy makers released in January 2003 by Cardinal Ralzinger, the pope’s guardian of the orthodoxy of catholic faith, declared that the separation of religion and politics did not mean a separation of morals and politics. It asserted that the Catholic Church has the divine, ultimate, and legitimate authority to define the truth on morality and what is right in politics and exhorted Catholics to defend the Church’s position without compromise, in particular on issues related to the family and to sexual and reproductive health rights.

As the report makes clear, the Catholic Church is adamantly opposed to the EU’s efforts to recognise the right to plan family size, choose homosexual or non-married partnership, seek abortion, or form non-traditional families. The Pope seeks to restore outdated policies that limit access to abortion and family planning and discourage and discriminate against non-traditional unions and families.

The report, “Preserving Power and Privilege” explains how the stakes at the EU include both official policy and budget allocation.

Funding: In 2002, the European Parliament was reauthorising “aid for policies and actions on sexual and reproductive health and rights in developing countries.” The proposed amount of 20 million for 2003-2006 was slashed to 6 million when 160 Members of European Parliament voted against the measure signalling that the European Parliament’s consensus on sexual and reproductive rights might be over and that the Vatican’s lobbying was having an impact.

Abortion: To discredit a report by Belgian MEP Anne Van Lancker that addressed family planning, contraception, education, abortion, and pregnancy, the Vatican and its allies tried to block it through procedural methods, then mounted a misinformation campaign, falsely accusing Van Lancker’s report of promoting abortion, and engaged other MEPs to attack it.

The report was adopted in July 2002 by a vote of 280-240 with 28 abstentions, but the controversy created illustrates typical opposition tactics employed by the Vatican in reproductive rights debates in the EU.

Source: CFFC report

This article originally appeared in the 17 October 2003 edition of The Independent.