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Catholics Join Broad Coalition of Civil Society in Protest Against Special Status of Vatican Granted Through Article 51 in European Draft Constitution

November 5, 2003

“If the Vatican succeeds in its goal to gain special consultative status within the EU a great number of people could face discrimination and be denied their human rights,” declared Elfriede Harth, on behalf of Catholics for a Free Choice-Europe. The Vatican wants a special exemption from EU policy so that the Catholic church can discriminate on the grounds of religion or sexual orientation.

They’re fighting for an exemption that would grant the church the right to organize and administer its agencies without having to comply with European policies and regulations that the church considers a violation of its teachings. This would mean that Catholic-run or affiliated hospitals, schools and social service projects would not have to respect EU principles and laws on non-discrimination. The Vatican got their language on this right annexed to the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam—the first mention of the church in a European legislative document—and it allows all churches to be exempted from the treaty’s prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion or sexual orientation. This means that Catholic-affiliated projects could refuse to hire and could fire gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, and divorced and re-married people as well. They could also refuse to hire or fire people who publicly express disagreement with church positions on key policy issues, like contraception or abortion.

This not only violates the freedom of expression and human rights of those who work for the church it would also ensure that EU funding would continue to go to Catholic institutions even if they violate EU policies. EU funding goes to Catholic organisations that do not always reflect the progressive values of the EU, especially when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Vatican rejects EU policy but gets EU money. Between 1997 and 2002, Catholic charities received nearly €99 million of EU funding under the budget line that goes to fund NGO development projects—close to 10 percent of the total €1 billion the EU spent on such projects.

In light of recent statements by Vatican officials that condoms cause AIDS, falsely claiming that the HIV/AIDS pathogen passes through microscopic “holes” in latex condoms, granting such special rights to the church could also contribute to the loss of life related to the transmission of AIDS.

“We want European policy makers to understand that the Vatican does not represent the views of the majority of Catholics. European policy makers should not allow the Vatican to institutionalise the privileged position it already holds,” said Harth, referring to a recently released report by CFFC, Preserving Power and Privilege—The Vatican’s Agenda at the European Union. “Through article 51 of the Draft European Constitution, the Vatican wants special consultative status in the EU that is not held by any other nongovernmental entity. 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 onto the developing legal system of the European Union, and, as a result, onto the lives of all European citizens, regardless of their faith.”