“The Holy See often acts like we’re back in the early days of international institutions,” says Robert Royal. “We’re not, and the situation will only become worse.”
Royal, the founding president of the Faith and Reason Institute, a Catholic think tank, was responding to a U.N. committee’s harsh criticisms this week of the Holy See and its handling of clerical sex abuse.
The recommendations, made by the auditing Committee of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, were roundly criticized for failing to acknowledge the many steps already taken by the Holy See to root out clerical sex abuse, and for ignoring evidence given by Holy See officials to the committee at a hearing in Geneva last month.
Church leaders were even more surprised by what they saw as the committee’s brazen suggestion — one it wasn’t authorized to give — that the church change its teaching on abortion, homosexuality and contraception. Such a statement, the Holy See said, was an “attempt to interfere” in the church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said on Feb. 7, the report showed a “serious” lack of understanding of the Holy See that warranted “amazement.” And like other Vatican officials, he blames the committee’s criticisms on the meddling of NGOs whose prejudices against the church are “well known.”
But such a clash doesn’t come as a great surprise to many Catholic observers. For Royal, the U.N. and other international institutions are merely adopting new social mores that the global body couldn’t have envisaged when it was founded in 1945.
“The central problem, one that will grow quite rapidly now, is that the new set of values in international institutions and the developed nations individually is going to continue to creep into all U.N. deliberations,” Royal said. “This is not the relativism of the past. It’s a new set of substantive views that somehow have come to trump earlier fundamental values.”
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Royal believes, could not be adopted today because these new views within international institutions “ride roughshod” over different cultures and religions.
Many see the U.N. committee’s recommendations as just the latest example. “These committees are simply out of control,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a group defending the Catholic view of the family at the U.N. “They routinely go beyond the scope of the treaties they are supposed to monitor.” Such reports, he added, are used as “cudgels by our enemies to beat us with.”
“It is happening right now,” he said. “This is a very serious attack on international law, human rights and religious freedom.”
Ruse would like to see all governments “speak out and push back” against such treaty monitoring bodies. Regarding this particular committee, he believes the Holy See should wait five years and then “quietly withdraw” from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Holy See signed up to in 1990.
But he doesn’t believe it should leave the U.N. The Holy See, which this year marks 30 years of permanent observer status, is “desperately needed” at the international body, he said. “Without them, the deluge.”
Benjamin Harnwell, director of the pro-life think tank the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, agrees but takes a slightly harder line, saying the UN has become an “undemocratic bureaucratic behemoth whose day job is population control with a little international peacekeeping on the side.”
He believes the Holy See should consider withdrawing from this Convention, but that the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should first be given the opportunity to “state formally that this committee has acted ultra vires [beyond its powers], and misinterpreted and misrepresented the convention that it exists to protect.”
He doesn’t expect Ban to issue such an admonishment, as he is likely to back the committee’s recommendations. But that would leave Holy See with no choice but to ask for its signature to be removed.
For many Catholics, greater hope rests with developing nations, which continue to resist a “moral revolution” being foisted on them by the developed world.
Royal believes if this continues, it would start a “counterrevolution that might rip the whole U.N. system apart.” He points out that Ban has just called on world nations to stop persecuting homosexuals. “If what he means is to stop harassing, jailing, and so on, that’s only right,” Royal said.
But he added that for some people, not persecuting “then goes on to mean affirming which goes on to mean restricting and even ‘persecuting’ those who maintain older sexual values.”
“It will take a while for that process to work its way through the U.N. system, but it’s clear many leaders would like to implement it right now,” Royal said.
“Church leaders know this, but they should do something about it before the steamroller flattens Catholic churches.”