|| Vatican condemns abortion, birth control for
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Putting a new exclamation point on a long-held position, the Vatican has again condemned the inclusion of birth control and abortion among services offered to refugees by international aid agencies.
The sharp condemnation of anti-values that offend the dignity of the poorest and most vulnerable populations came in a multilingual document jointly issued by three curial agencies. This unusual procedure generally signals a matter of strong Vatican interest.
The document, dated Sept. 14, was made public by the Vatican Nov. 8. It was motivated by the 1999 issuance of a field manual for United Nations personnel, published by the United Nations High Commission for Refugee Affairs.
The Vatican asserts that the manual reflects utilitarian and Malthusian values rooted in moral and intellectual confusion about the nature of the human person. In its attempts to promote individual freedom, the Vatican says, the manual neglects corresponding individual and social duties.
Specifically, the Vatican condemns:
Though the treatment of these points in the document is unusually extensive, in essence these points reflect longstanding disagreements between the Vatican and international agencies, especially the United Nations, on approaches to the reproductive health of refugees.
In 1993, for example, John Paul II issued a letter to Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, in which the pope rejected suggestions that Bosnian women who had been raped during ethnic conflict in the Balkans should be helped to abort pregnancies.
With maximum clarity it must be stressed that the child to be born, not having any responsibility for what happened, is innocent and cannot, therefore, in any way be considered an aggressor, the pope wrote. He called on raped women to transform the act of violence into an act of love and welcome.
In 1998, the Vatican in league with Muslim nations successfully resisted efforts to have enforced pregnancy defined as a war crime punishable by the new International Criminal Court, fearing that it would lead to assertions of a right to abortion.
In 1999, Vatican authorities opposed proposals to distribute the morning after pill to rape victims in camps sheltering Albanian refugees during the Kosovo conflict.
The new document provides good guidance for us, said William Canny, head of the International Catholic Migration Commission, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The commission, sponsored by 65 national bishops conferences including the U.S. conference, has 400 employees and is active in at least a dozen nations.
We certainly will adhere to Catholic social doctrine, Canny told NCR in a Nov. 14 interview in Rome during an annual meeting of his groups governing commission. We wont distribute birth control.
At the same time, Canny said, the situations described in the Vatican document simply dont come up very often.
Almost half of the refugees in the world are Muslim, and they arent pushing birth control, Canny said. This wont be a problem in Pakistan, for example.
Canny said his field experience is that United Nations personnel dont distribute birth control devices or provide abortions often. He also said that while his group receives funding from the United Nations, he has never felt pressure to either participate in or condone the provision of these services.
Jesuit Fr. Robert Araujo, professor of law at Gonzaga University who is part of the Vatican delegation to the new International Criminal Court, said disagreements over reproductive issues should not overshadow a lot of overlap of common interest and cooperation between Rome and the United Nations.
In an interview with NCR, Araujo cited joint concerns ranging from child nutrition to a ban on land mines.
Araujo said there will always be disagreement when U.N. policy runs up against church teaching, but argued that strong Vatican interventions have produced fruits. He said the Beijing Plus Five conference in 2000, compared to the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, showed modest improvement in what the Holy See would consider favorable.
John L. Allen Jr. is NCRs Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2001