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Catholics Join Coalition of 35 European NGOs in Appeal to Convention Not to Give Religion Unfair Influence in Constitutional Treaty

May 22, 2003

(Versailles, France)–Today, representatives of religious, environmentalist, humanist, and reproductive rights groups, together with professional non-governmental organizations from throughout Europe announced a joint effort to make sure religion is not granted privileged status in the European Union by calling on members of the European Convention to reject Article 37 from the pending draft of the European Constitution.

“The diversity of the signing organizations shows the depth of concern over the fact that a religious lobby, the Vatican, is exerting undue influence in an attempt to gain privilege in the EU. That such a coalition has formed to respond to the Vatican efforts is impressive,” said Elfriede Harth of Catholics for a Free Choice Europe.

Coalition members said they are challenging the members of the Convention for the Future of the European Union to preserve the principle of separation of church and state in an enlarged Europe. The coalition of NGOs issued their “solemn appeal” to the Convention asking that Article 37 be removed from the Constitutional Treaty for the sake of “preserving and continuing to develop the gains acquired in their various fields of activity, be it in the field of education, morality, family and the condition of women, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, divorce or sexual orientation, etc.”

Members of the coalition said in their appeal that granting churches a privileged institutional status is incompatible with secularism. They expressed particular concern about the Vatican attaining a privileged status, given its poor record on issues related to women. Harth added that the Catholic church should not be given an opportunity to impose its ideas related to women’s reproductive rights on European women, particularly since most Catholic women don’t agree with the Vatican on such issues.

“For months, the Vatican diplomatic machinery has been at work granting papal audiences to heads of governments and European ambassadors to discuss the importance of including religion in the EU. The Vatican has been inviting senior European officials to meetings, briefing the media, and organizing seminars and other events on religious freedom and the role of Catholicism in Europe. This is an attempt to convince policy makers of the need to preserve privileges for the church, and to grant it the right to have a privileged status in European public policy making,” said Harth.

Harth pointed out that the church has already worked to become included in the Constitution Protocol 11 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, which gives the Catholic church the right to violate Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Article 13 condemns discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sexual orientation and age. “This protocol grants the church the right to be protected from state control as an employer and to be exempted from recognizing certain basic principles, like equality of all citizens,” said Harth. “At the same time, the third paragraph of Article 37 would give the church the privilege of being consulted about and having a say on general public policy and on all legislative projects by the European authorities. This is not acceptable, ” asserted Harth.

“The Holy See is working very hard to amass in Europe as much institutional power as it already holds in the United Nations,” said Harth. “The detrimental impact of the Vatican’s participation in UN conferences, where it plays a lead role among the most fundamentalist countries in the world on such issues as women’s rights, would be a threat for women’s rights and health in Europe as well.”

Among the organizations represented in the Joint Appeal to the Members of the Convention are:

Catholics for a Free Choice – Europe
International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network
International Lesbian Gay Alliance – Europe
European Humanist Federation
European League for Teaching
European Network “Church on the Move”
Right to Die – Europe
The ASTRA Network Centre for Environmental Studies
The Standing Committee of Nurses of the EU
French Coordination of the European Women’s Lobby (Coordination Française pour le Lobby Européen des Femmes)
Women Living Under Muslim Law