Holy See Impedes Women’s Rights at the UN
It’s Time for a “See Change” for Women

For immediate release

Contact: Jon O’Brien/Patti Miller

March 15, 2000
Work phone: +1 (202) 986-6093

United Nations, New York--Catholics for a Free Choice and women’s and human rights groups from around the globe are calling for a review of the Holy See’s Non-Member State Permanent Observer status at the United Nations. From opposing the use of condoms to halt the spread of AIDS to decrying the provision of emergency contraception for refugee victims of rape, the Holy See misuses its special status to erect real obstacles to the promotion of women’s health and well-being, despite the contention of resolutions recently introduced in the US Congress. The resolutions, introduced by several anti-choice members of Congress—Sens. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Bob Smith (R-NH) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)—oppose any effort to review the status of the Holy See at the UN and laud the role played by the Holy See in the UN.

“While the Roman Catholic church has made many positive contributions to peace and justice at the UN, neither these contributions nor the negative stands the Holy See has taken on women’s rights and reproductive health are the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is the fact that the Holy See is not a state, but the government of the Roman Catholic church. To grant state status and special privileges to this religion over all others is simply unfair. The ‘See Change’ Campaign seeks a level playing field in the UN for all religions,” said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.

“The legal status of the Holy See as a nation-state is questionable. It does not meet the same criteria of nationhood as the other nations that are participating in the UN,” noted Anika Rahman, international program director at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy.

Bene Madunagu, executive board chair of the Girls’ Power Initiative in Nigeria, noted the devastating impact of the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. “Faced with the devastation that AIDS is causing in countries across Africa, the Roman Catholic hierarchy has coldly reiterated its ban on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. The church leadership continues to pose serious obstacles to AIDS prevention at both an international and local level,” noted Madunagu.

She added, “Such a position calls into question the Roman Catholic church’s moral right to high status at the United Nations, where its interventions and lobbying deny women in developing countries access to protection that Catholic women in the developed world enjoy, as they have the economic and social power to ignore the pronouncements of the church hierarchy.”

Amparo Claro, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network, noted the impact of the Vatican’s public policy initiatives against contraception and abortion on maternal mortality in Latin America. “The Vatican has a double standard. On the one hand, it says that it agrees with the gender perspective. On the other hand, it actively opposes at the United Nations the availability of reproductive health services that save the lives of women. On the surface they posture and seem to defend women, but in reality they are working to deny access to reproductive health services. In Latin America, women face the real threats posed by maternal mortality and unsafe abortion. The Vatican cannot truly stand with women until we see in its actions support for the basic reproductive health services that would help save women's lives. We consider it entirely unacceptable that UN negotiations are influenced by exclusive and dogmatic ideologies and moralities permanently imposed on other members by a unique and privileged member.”

Catholics for a Free Choice is the initiator of The “See Change” Campaign—the international campaign calling on the United Nations secretary-general to review the current status of the Holy See at the United Nations. The campaign has gained significant international support, with approximately 450 organizations worldwide endorsing it as of March 13, 2000. A signature-gathering drive is currently underway to garner individual support.

--Statement Ends--

The “See Change” Statement:
As a UN Non-member State Permanent Observer, the Holy See often enjoys unique status as a voting partner with countries at UN conferences.   Granting government privileges to what is in reality a religious body is questionable statecraft. While the Holy See—the government of the Roman Catholic church—has made positive contributions through the United Nations to peace and justice, this should not be used to justify granting the status of a state to a religious institution.
Government participation in the UN should be reserved for actual states. The world’s religions have been well represented through non-governmental organizational status. With NGO status, the Roman Catholic church would be able to continue to participate in the UN—like the World Council of Churches—without ambiguity or privilege. We call upon the Secretary-General to open an official review of the Holy See’s status at the UN.

Catholics for a Free Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being, and respect and affirm the moral capacity of women and men to make sound decisions about their lives. Through discourse, education, and advocacy, CFFC works in the United States and internationally to infuse these values into public policy, community life, feminist analysis, and Catholic social thinking and teaching. Catholics for a Free Choice does not support or oppose candidates for public office.