See-Sickness at the United Nations
The Happy Heretic, November 1999
Remember when we were kids and had to memorize all the states and their capitals? I can still recall the pride I felt in accomplishing that feat. Jefferson City, Bismarck, Frankfort, they were all there, tucked away in my memory, retrievable at a moment's notice. Then we moved on to countries. What a nightmare! So much for pride of accomplishment. And, really, who cares what Tasmania's chief export is?
Never my strongest subject, geography is still a challenge for me. I am hard pressed to name every country in or near the Balkans. Until recently I was hard pressed to find the Balkans on a map. By the time I learned to spell Czechoslovakia it didn't exist any more. And, to be candid, does anyone really know about, or care to know about, Palau or Gabon? No offense intended, as I'm sure these countries are home to some very nice people. But there are only so many brain cells allotted to learning the names of and general information about countries on this planet Earth. I long ago used up my allotment.
My only consolation lies in old maps. I have my father's old 1954 world atlas and it looks like a different planet altogether. How can anyone keep track of countries if we keep redrawing borders?! So I have more than one reason to be upset when I try to keep track of the goings-on at the United Nations. (1) My geographical brain cell allotment is depleted and (2) I do not understand why the Vatican is recognized, in any way, by the United Nations.
A most illuminating site on this issue is: www.seechange.org and I agree with every single word on it. Which doesn't happen often! Sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), this site represents a campaign, a most worthy campaign, to get the Roman Catholic Church out of the United Nations. The Vatican's privileged position in the UN has rankled me for years, but until quite recently I had no idea there was a movement to end this inappropriate, intrusive presence of the so-called Holy See. God bless the Internet! So to speak.
Unlike every other religion in the world, all of whom are recognized only as "non-governmental organizations" (NGOs), the Holy See has been granted the status of a "non-member state." The only other entity on the planet Earth with the same status as the Vatican is the country of Switzerland. And the Swiss Guards, created around 1500 AD by Pope Julius II, just happens to be the only official guardian of the Vatican and its popes. But guards or no guards, the Holy See has permanent observer status in the UN. My only question: Why?
Vatican City claims statehood. They have a postal system and a telecommunications service (radio), and because of that it calls itself a state. And because it calls itself a state, the UN says, "Okay, you're in. You're a non-voting, non- member." Sounds harmless enough, right? Wrong.
I visited the United Nations web site and was unhappily surprised. Over and over I kept running into the Holy See. Just a couple of examples: In listing the countries that signed the Landmine Ban in Ottawa, lo and behold, there it was---the Holy See. Right between Haiti and Honduras. The Vatican formally and officially signed a UN agreement. Again, why? Then I found a photo of John Paul II addressing the UN General Assembly, along with a photo of the Vatican's Permanent Observer to the UN, Archbishop Renato Raffaele Martino. I also found a 1998 International Year of the Ocean agreement and a listing of all countries who voted on it (or abstained) and sure enough, there it was again. Though not voting, the Holy See was nestled comfortably where it is in all UN undertakings---between Haiti and Honduras.
Further, as a Permanent Observer the Vatican may participate in UN debates, along with addressing the General Assembly. And, since the UN prefers to decide issues on a consensus basis, lone dissenters on any issue can make a difference. So, locked and loaded, the Holy See has been able to flex its mighty muscles in conferences as important as the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, in Cairo, and the 1995 Fourth World conference on Women, in Beijing. And there have been resolutions calling for all "states," which would include the Holy See, so nebulously defined, to have the right to vote on all initiatives.
What is wrong with this picture?!
Where to begin, huh? First, just what makes the Roman Catholic Church even remotely equal to a country? If all it takes is a postal system and a radio station, I am ready to become a city-state. Or better yet, how's this: (Trivia time!) Anyone out there remember the Our Gang comedies? Some cable stations still run them. Well, that darling group of tykes, at least the male population of the group, formed a group called The He-Man Woman-Haters Club. Spanky, I think, was president, and Alfalfa was vice-president. But poor little Alfalfa had trouble resisting the charms of all-too-precious Darla. Anyway, if they had had a postal system (hand couriers), their own currency (Monopoly money) and a communication system (two cans and a string) could they have gained UN recognition?
I realize a little sarcasm goes a long way. However, the Vatican is less than a half-mile square and its residents number around 900 and change. It is first, foremost and solely a religious enclave. It is run as all dictatorships are run---with the iron fist of one man, in this case the Pope. So what the hell is it doing in the United Nations?!
When asked about the Catholic Church's highly favored status (as in unique) over other religions, Archbishop Martino replied that if you asked other religions to come forward, such as Moslems, they would not be able to speak with a "united" voice. But since Catholics could so speak, through the Pope, with one voice, their presence was justified. How disingenuous! What does any religious voice, whether solo or ensemble, have to do with being recognized as a state?! I guess, though, when you're the powerful Roman Catholic Church you get to write your own United Nations rules.
Okay. Time out. I can state with unequivocal certainty that I alone speak for Bob the Raingod. My husband can easily build us a telecommunications system and in time I'm certain we could get postal recognition. Should that earn me the right to be officially recognized at the UN?
This disingenuousness of the Vatican in all this is breathtaking. To test that, put the question the other way. That is, instead of asking why the UN recognizes the Holy See, ask why the Holy See wants to be recognized by the UN? Their business is to tend to the souls of their flock, correct? They profess to be interested only in the spiritual, not the temporal, affairs of this Earth. So why do they want to be included in a totally political affiliation of the world's countries? Could it be, she dared to ask, that the Vatican's agenda is totally political?!
Frankly, though, I don't care what their damn agenda is. They have no business taking up time, space and money, our money, proselytizing in the United Nations. And that's all it is. Proselytizing. And unless the UN grants every other religion in the world, no matter how large or small, the same right, the Vatican must go. The sooner the better. They've overstayed their unearned sojourn as it is.
I want to make it clear that I do not speak for CFFC or the campaign known as "See Change." I did contact them and ask if they would like a link from an atheist; most graciously, and surprisingly to me at least, they said they would welcome a link. So I am linking to them. If you'd like to check out their worthwhile campaign, click on the link in this article or, when you happen to be web surfing, stop by their site. It's so easy to remember (seechange.org) and I think it's worth a moment of your time. And please pass it along to any groups or individuals you think might be interested.
I realize this sounds like an infomercial, but it's just the result of two powerful emotions: anger and hope. Anger at the yet-again flexing of the Catholic Church's temporal muscles, and hope because some serious groups are getting behind this See Change campaign. When you get to their site, click on "Endorsers" and you'll see what I mean. At the same time, the Postcard Drive is something individuals can participate in. Sign one and send one along---yes, like a chain letter, but with a more worthy goal---to get the Vatican out of the UN where it has no business being. At all. Nor did it ever.
If this seems like just another petition/chore kind of thing, try putting it on a personal level. Picture those heart-wrenching photos we always see of tiny tots from all over the world, big brown eyes staring sadly out of little faces with sunken cheeks that are accompanied by deceptively bulging bellies---the bellies of starvation and/or worms. Usually both. Then picture Pope John Paul II on one, single personal appearance tour, wearing his golden brocades over his well-fed belly; accompanied by a half million dollars worth, plus or minus, of holy "relics" and jewelry; and surrounded by the most expensive and elite security guards money can buy. Now picture that well-fed, well-dressed guardian of billions (and billions!) of dollars worth of tax-free assets, enshrining into Canon Law the prohibition against birth control. That one cruel edict threatens millions upon millions with eternal damnation if they try to limit their children to a number they can love and care for.
Got the picture?!
The Roman Catholic Church is being allowed to influence United Nations' decisions about birth control, abortion and condoms in Third World countries. Why we have tolerated it this long is a good question. They have no business sticking their noses into World Health Organization decisions. If the Catholic Church wants to preach against family planning and safe sex, fine. They can do so from their own pulpits. But they are no more deserving of UN recognition than The He-Man Woman-Haters Club. The time is long overdue.
Get The Vatican Out Of The United Nations!