Catholic reformists lobby to rid Vatican of observer status at UN, end influence
National Post (Canada), August 12, 1999
Catholic reformists are calling on the United Nations to rescind the Vatican status as an "observer" state since it claims the Holy See is using the seat to block access to contraception for women in developing countries. The observer status gives the Vatican the right to attend UN committee meetings and even address the organization’s policy-making General Assembly. In a campaign that has spread to Canada, the reformists claim the Catholic Church should participate in the United Nations in the same way other religious groups do—as a non-governmental organization (NGO) that lobbies in the corridors to influence policy. In addition to the issue of access to contraception, the reformists say the Vatican regularly tries to block efforts to advance women’s rights. "On an altar of sexism they are sacrificing the reputation of the Catholic Church as an instrument of justice in the world," said Joanna Manning, a leading Canadian activist for the See Change campaign. She said 75 NGOs—many of them women’s health and pressure groups—are rounding up thousands of signatures endorsing the campaign. The petition will probably be presented to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, at next years meeting of the World Conference on Women. See Change was launched following the conference’s last meeting in Beijing in 1995. At the time, the Vatican "was against using contraceptives as a protection against AIDS, against giving the morning-after pill to women who had been raped in time of war, and against allowing adults access to sex education," said Ms. Manning, author of the recently published Is the Pope Catholic?, a Canadian bestseller about Catholic reformist questions. "It failed to exclude these items from the final declaration, but its stance showed us—Catholics for reform—that we have to try to reduce the Church’s influence at the UN." The Vatican and Switzerland—a traditionally neutral country—are the only two states that have observer status at the United Nations. Because the Vatican is a tiny territory with an independent postal system, it was accepted into the United Nations. "By the standards used to give the Vatican a seat at the General Assembly, Eurodisney deserves a seat on the Security Council," said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, the Washington-based group that is overseeing the See Change campaign.