Statement of Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for A Free Choice, in response to the vote on House Concurrent Resolution 253 about The “See Change” Campaign
In an effort to counter a strong international non-governmental organization campaign calling on the United Nations to review the Non-member State status of the Roman Catholic church at the UN, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) brought to the House floor today a non-binding Congressional Resolution (H. Con. Res. 253) purportedly supporting the Non-member State status of the Holy See in the UN.
In fact, the measure is primarily an effort by Republican anti-choice members to counter criticism of both Gov. George W. Bush (R-TX) for his appearance at Bob Jones University and for missteps by Republican members who initially denied the House chaplaincy to a Catholic priest.
Not surprisingly, the resolution passed by a vote of 416 to 1. What legislator, in a period characterized by rhetorical charges of anti-Catholicism rather than measured public debate, would vote against a nonbinding resolution? While those opposed to The “See Change” Campaign will make much of the vote, the fact is that its passage will have no impact on the question of the Holy See’s state status at the UN. The resolution, which was first introduced in February 2000, mysteriously languished in the House, missing a key opportunity to express support for the Holy See during the June Beijing +5 conference where the Holy See was almost universally criticized by NGOs and the international media for its minority role in attempting to block key elements of international human rights policy for women. The Vatican has also been criticized for its policy on AIDS prevention, particularly its opposition to the provision of services that help prevent the spread of AIDS, especially condoms and safe-sex education. It is particularly sad that this vote occurred during the international conference on AIDS in South Africa.
Few will be fooled by the resolution, which was pushed to a vote with little notice. Indeed, of the three people who spoke in favor of the resolution, one, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, was critical of the anti-family planning language it contained. The other supporter complained that the resolution should have been the subject of a hearing and wondered why notice of the measure was given as late as 10 p.m. the previous evening.
The question of the appropriate role for the Roman Catholic church in the UN, whether it is called the Holy See or the Vatican, is a legitimate question of the separation of church and state that deserves serious consideration by both the United Nations and the US Congress. Non-binding jingoistic apple pie resolutions that mistake questions of law and of policy will not make the real issues go away.
For more information about the campaign, visit www.seechange.org.