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Catholics for a Free Choice Kicks Off See Change Campaign in France

May 14, 2003

Catholics for a Free Choice Wednesday kicked off its “See Change” Campaign in France to initiate a review of the Holy See’s special “state” status at the United Nations. Catholics for a Free Choice President Frances Kissling was joined by a number of French colleagues, including Françoise Laurant, president of Movement Français de Planification Familiale. The group called on the members of the Convention on the Future of Europe and activists to fight to maintain separation of church and state in the European Union and to deny the Vatican the level of influence it has in the UN.

Kissling said, “We have watched the Holy See seek a place of privilege in the United Nations. We are increasingly concerned that the Vatican is seeking similar privileges and power within the European Union. Before that happens, members of the European Convention who are drafting the future Constitutional Treaty for an enlarged European Union should have the political vision and coherence to remove article 37 of the constitutional project that grants the Church privileges which contravene the principle of separation of Church and State.”

Participants at the press conference expressed concern about Vatican efforts to secure an institutional role for Catholic authorities within the European Union because of the harmful consequences that would have for the principle of “laicité,” also known as secularism.

Jean Baubérot, honorary president of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and an expert in “laicité,” agreed that the suppression of this article was appropriate and necessary “for the sake of pluralism, not only of Catholicism but also of the European society as a whole.”

“The time has come to challenge this façade of the Vatican as a state before it amasses any more power,” said Kissling.

“The question of the Vatican’s status at the United Nations is not an empty political debate,” said Françoise Laurant, president of the French Family Planning Association. “Vatican positions on issues in the United Nations and in countries across the world have had the effect of endangering women’s rights and increasing the suffering of the world’s poorest women,” he said.

Louis Peignon, a Roman Catholic priest, said there are advantages of a clear separation of religion and politics. “My lifelong experience as a worker priest has taught me that religious liberty begins with the respect by those who hold religious authority of the most precious good of human beings, which is their individual conscience. The culture of the laicité, as it has developed in France over the past two hundred years, is an achievement that we need to preserve for the sake of peace.”

Hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals have already joined the CFFC See Change campaign. (For more information, visit