Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Vatican at the UN

a review by Edd Doerr

The Catholic Church at the United Nations: Church or State? Catholics for Choice, 24 pp, 2013. (Available free from Catholics for Choice, 1436 U St NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20009. May also be accessed at

The Catholic Church is the only religious body in the world that enjoys Permanent Observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. It uses that position to impede or block UN action on women's rights and reproductive  choice (contraception and abortion). This important and unique monograph comprehensively explains how the church "wormed its way" into this position after World War II, a process that is too irreducibly complex for easy summary, and how it uses that position.

We might note that the Catholic Church is the only religious body with which the United States government has formal diplomatic relations, an arrangement begun by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 over substantial opposition. (I testified at a congressional hearing on the matter and was one of the plaintiffs in the unsuccessful effort to block that recognition as a violation of the First Amendment.) But that matter is beyond the scope of this review.

For clarity, the Catholic Church is headed by what is called the Holy See, which is headquartered  at the Vatican (citta del Vaticano), a sovereign enclave smaller than an 18-hole golf course in Rome created by Mussolini and Pope Pius XI in 1929. The US and the other 177 nations that now have diplomatic relations with the church have them with the Holy See, not Vatican City. The church for centuries ruled an actual country called the Papal States in central Italy, but they were incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1970. The church remained "stateless" from 1870 until the Lateran Pacts of 1929. During that 59 year period, however, the Holy See concluded concordats (treaties) with a  number of countries, such as Colombia. In 1933 the Holy See signed a concordat with the Nazi government in Germany.

Catholics for Choice for several years has led a broad effort called "See Change" to get the Holy See's (Vatican's) status at the UN reduced to the level of myriad other NGOs. Given the ongoing worldwide war on women's rights and reproductive choice and the feeble efforts to deal with climate change, resource depletion, poverty, and overpopulation, the Catholic Church's obstructionism needs to be challenged by all concerned people of all religious persuasions.

If readers order the print edition of this monograph, let me suggest that they send a check for $5 to cover costs.

1 comment:

Edd.Doerr said...

Corrections: Italy incorporated the Papal States in 1870, not 1970. And "See Change" should read The "See Change"Camoaign.