Canadians join move to oust Vatican from UN International coalition
Christopher Shulgan
Ottawa Citizen (Canada), April 19,1999

A growing number of Canadian Catholics are joining an international coalition that aims to remove the Vatican from the United Nations, in an effort to muffle the Pope's voice on women's reproductive issues. In less than a month, the coalition has grown to include more than 70 organizations across the world.

The coalition, which includes former nun Joanna Manning of Toronto and the Canadian branch of Catholics for a Free Choice, is lobbying UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to stop recognizing the governing body of the Roman Catholic Church as an official state. "Why should a few acres of office space and tourist attractions in the centre of Rome have a voice in making United Nations policy?" said Frances Kissling, the president of Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for a Free Choice.

The Vatican holds the same status within the UN as that of a permanent non-member observer. The rank allows the Catholic church to participate in UN policy-setting conferences and to vote on recommendations. That gives the Pope more power in the UN than the Holy See's single vote reflects because policy-setting conferences typically attempt to reach consensus on issues.

"The Vatican's obstructive tactics on women's rights at international forums have caused the Catholic church to lose credibility as a spiritual and moral force in the world," says Ms. Manning, a women's rights advocate whose book, Is the Pope Catholic?, argues the Vatican has strayed from its true ideology. Coalition members contend the Vatican actively lobbies the UN to not condone abortion or artificial birth control, in such international policy-making meetings as the 1995 world conference on women in Beijing and the 1994 population control conference in Cairo.

"It was shocking what they were trying to do in blocking any initiatives on the status of women's health issues or giving women control of family size," says Kathleen Howes, the Canadian representative of Catholics for a Free Choice.

The coalition hopes the secretary-general will demote the Vatican to a "non-governmental organization," which can't vote on UN policy. NGOs must also be invited before they are able to address any of the world governing body's policy-making meetings.

Bill Kokesch, spokesman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, defends the Holy See's status. "[The Vatican] is an independent state, it has its own government," he says, and as an internationally recognized sovereignty deserves its place in the UN. Although the demotion would give the Vatican the same rank within the UN as other major religions such as Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, the coalition doesn't necessarily have the support of clergy from other religions.

"The Vatican has as much right to be [in the UN] as any of the other countries," says Bishop John Baycroft, who will leave Ottawa in late August to become the Anglican church's ambassador to the Vatican. While he says he doesn't agree with all the Pope's policies, Bishop Baycroft says the Vatican deserves its sovereign status as the territorial remainder of the Papal States. "There's a long, long history to it," he said.

Also, the UN is well-served to count the Vatican within its membership, Bishop Baycroft says, because its world-wide network of community-level contacts gives it a sense of what ordinary people are thinking that few other governments can match. "It truly is a universal church," he says. Bishop Baycroft suggests a more productive route for the Catholic activists might be to work within their church to change its policies. "I think for members of a church to want to weaken it is a very queer thing," he said.