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Vatican Claims to Support Women’s Rights Overstated, New Report Charges Shadow Report Documents that the Church Acts to Limit Women’s Human Rights

March 15, 2000

(New York) A new shadow report details actions by the Holy See that limit women’s human rights in the Catholic church and in society.  Shadow reports are compiled by non-governmental organizations on the progress of various nations in implementing the Platform for Action developed at the Fourth World Conference on Women, which outlined specific goals for promoting women’s rights.

Prepared by Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), the shadow report is a contribution to the five-year review process of the Beijing Platform for Action that is currently underway at the United Nations.   The Holy See and Women’s Rights: A Shadow Report on the Beijing Platform for Action, launched today, reviews the Holy See’s activity over the last five years since the Beijing conference.

Speaking at the launch of the shadow report, Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said, “Although the Vatican has strenuously defended its UN status as a state, it is one of only a few states that has not provided a report on its progress regarding the Platform for Action.  Nevertheless, it has consistently claimed that it is a champion of women’s rights and dignity.”

Despite the claims of the Holy See that it promotes women’s rights, CFFC found a host of areas in which it actually obstructs these rights and takes actions and positions contrary to the PFA.

  • The Holy See has failed to ratify the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
  • The church has dealt harshly with women who disagree with it on issues of sexuality, going so far as to silence Brazilian nun and theologian Ivone Gebara.
  • The Catholic hierarchy has failed to make room for women in positions of authority within the church.  Women are conspicuously absent from senior positions within dioceses and on the pontifical councils that advise the pope on issues of family and sexuality.
  • In countries like Kenya where women are increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, the church hierarchy has consistently attempted to block or undermine safe sex programs.
  • The Vatican said that women who had been raped in Kosovo should not take emergency contraception.  Previously, the pope had said that women raped in Bosnia should “accept the enemy” and make him “flesh of their flesh” rather than take emergency contraception.

CFFC initiated The “See Change” Campaign against the Holy See’s presence in the UN as a Non-Member State Permanent Observer and feels that it is crucial that the Holy See be evaluated in its actions in the same manner as UN member nations.  The Holy See claims the privileges of a UN member nation at UN conferences and was active in the negotiations that led to the Platform for Action at the Beijing conference.  The See Change Campaign is seeking a review of this status in the hope that it will lead to Holy See participation at the UN in a manner consistent with the world’s other religions.  (For more information, see

In addition to the shadow report, CFFC prepared two additional publications for Beijing +5. Catholic Voices on Beijing: A Call for Social Justice is an analysis of the Platform for Action and Catholic social teaching that affirms, despite opposition from the Holy See, the platform as representative of Catholic thinking and teaching regarding women.  Women and Roman Catholic Christianity, written by renowned Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, traces the development of the Catholic church’s attitudes toward women since the time of Christ. These publications may be obtained on request.   


–Statement Ends– 

CFFC will be present at the United Nations during the Beijing review process and interviews may be arranged by contacting Patti Miller at +1(202) 986-6093.