The Vatican and Family Politics by Gordon
Urquhart, author of The Pope's Armada: Unlocking the Secrets of Mysterious
and Powerful New Sect. in the Church (Bantam Press, 1995).
“This report, the second In CFFC's investigative series
Conservative Catholic Influence in Europe, describes the Vatican's approach to
public policy regarding family, gender, sexuality, and reproduction-those areas
in which the church is a conservative force in European political life. . .
[The Report] outlines the Vatican offices involved in family and gender policy,
the Catholic hierarchy and diplomatic corps, and the Vatican's partners in
politics, in the lobbying community, and in church movements. . . [and The
Report] describes more anecdotally the attitudes and methods that these players
bring to what they call `family politics.’"
Conservative CATHOLIC INFLUENCE IN EUROPE.
The Vatican and Family Politics
This report was researched and written for Catholics for a
Free Choice by Gordon Urquhart, author of The Pope's Armada: Unlocking the
Secrets of Mysterious and Powerful New Sects in the Church (London: Bantam
About This Report
This report, the second in CFFC's investigative series
Conservative Catholic Influence in Europe, describes the Vatican's approach to
public policy regarding family, gender, sexuality, and reproduction-those areas
in which the church is a conservative force in European political life.
This report is in several parts.
Part I, "The Players" (beginning on page 2),
outlines the Vatican offices involved in family and gender policy, the Catholic
hierarchy and diplomatic corps, and the Vatican's partners in politics, in the
lobbying community, and in church movements.
Part II, "From Strategy to Action" (beginning on
page 7), describes more anecdotally the attitudes and methods that these
players bring to what they call `family politics."
The conclusion, "A Public Responsibility" (page
17), includes recommendations for parliamentarians.
Catholics for a Free Choice, as part of its educational
mission, is disseminating this research and analysis to promote greater
awareness of conservative Catholic influence in Western European politics and
In many ways it is
counterintuitive, even troubling, to characterize the role of the Vatican in
international politics as "conservative." This is the church that has
called for the forgiveness of third world debt by first world nations, that played
a powerful role in the collapse of repressive regimes in Eastern Europe, that
defends the rights of immigrants, and that often, though not always, is an
eloquent spokesperson for human rights.
to these values and areas of public policy the Roman Catholic church is to be
applauded for the role it has played, but the scope of public policy has
changed dramatically during the last decade. Increasingly, public policy
focuses on what traditionally was considered the private sphere: women's rights
and social role; human reproduction; sexual rights, including those of
homosexual persons; marriage, divorce, and family life. "These issues are
on the public agenda constantly, at international as well as national levels.
In these forums, the teachings and woridview of the Catholic church often
collide with the more pluralistic and tolerant perspectives of most
governments, international institutions, and individuals.
church historically has sought a convergence between its teachings and public
policy, its own Second Vatican Council, which three decades ago redefined the
role of the church in the modern world,1 recognised the distinct
roles played by church and state and acknowledged that state policy need not
mirror church teachings in order to be legitimate.
positions advocated and the approaches taken in the public policy arena during
the current papacy seem to signal a rejection of these principles. The current
pope appears not to value separation of church and state when family, women,
sexuality, and reproduction are the subjects of policy. The effort to place a
socially conservative, traditionalist Catholic stamp on European and other
international public policy in these areas is unrelenting and vigorous. It is
pursued with single-minded passion by church leaders from the Vatican
diplomatic corps to its public relations specialists, from the pontifical
councils that mobilise grassroots activists to the conferences of bishops in
Part I: The Players
The Pope and the Roman Curia
As head of the church, the pope
sets the agenda, emphasis, and tone of the public policy work of the Vatican
and the members of the Catholic hierarchy. Assisting the pope is the curia, the
central government of the Catholic church, which presides over both spiritual
and administrative matters, including political relations with nations and
international institutions. The curia includes the Secretariat of State and
various departments, known as congregations and councils.2
Secretariat of State administers the work of the curia as a whole; manages the
flow of information to, and demands upon, the pope; and serves as the Vatican's
foreign ministry. The current Secretary of State is Cardinal Angelo Sodano;
within the secretariat, the Secretary for Relations with States-essentially the
Vatican's foreign minister-is Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran. Tauran's
section is the primary liaison with foreign ambassadors to the Vatican.
congregations are the curia's rule making departments, which govern matters
ranging from the articles of the Catholic faith to the appointment of bishops.
,The councils, an innovation of the Second Vatican Council, exist to promote
the hierarchy's positions and interests. Using opportunities in varied
arenas-from the media to politics to meetings that they sponsor-the councils
guide and support the work of bishops, allied politicians, and other lay people
"Highly organised secular humanists in the
UN and European governments," explained a Vatican official, are "the
these departments, the Pontifical Council for the Family is the nerve centre of
Vatican family policy and politics, including policy concerning `gender,
reproduction, and sexuality: The council "pro motes the pastoral care of
families and fosters their rights and dignity in the Church and in civil
society, in prder that they might ever more suitably fulfill their own
functions."3 Working with the president, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo,
are the council members, nineteen married couples who meet annually. A panel of
about thirty expert consultors brings to the council varied skills and
disciplines; for example, the consultors include Monsignor Diarmuid Martin and
US bishop James McHugh, experienced Vatican emissaries in international policy
making on gender and reproduction; Polish theologian Tadeusz Styczen; and
French parliamentarian Christine Boutin.
In addition, the Council for the
Family is one of two councils-the other being the Council for the Laity-with a
"committee of the president" made up of clerics. "These
committees, which meet infrequently, appear to be safety measures to ensure
clerical control," writes church political analyst Thomas Reese, a US Jesuit. "The committees can deal with governance
questions and other questions that the president would rather not take to the
laity."4 The family council's sixteen-member presidential committee
includes seven cardinals, among them such renowned conservatives as Scotland's
Thomas Winning, Brasil's Lucas Moreira Neves, and James Hickey and John O'Connor
from the United States.
involved in the Vatican's work on issues of family, gender, and reproduction is
the Pontifical Council for the Laity, whose president is an American
conservative, Archbishop J. Francis Stafford. Stafford's council promotes Catholic
teachings in the life of lay persons and coordinates the role of the laity in
the church's work. Membership consists mostly of lay persons from around the
councils with voices and impact on gender and reproductive policy and practices
are the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council Cor
Unum, which coordinate and promote the human rights and humanitarian work of
Catholic aid and development organisations; the Pontifical Council for Pastoral
Assistance to Health Care Workers; the Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue; and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, whose aim is to
promote "the message of salvation and human progress ... in civil culture
important instrument of church influence is the Pontifical Academy Pro-Vita
(Pontifical Academy for Life). A Vatican institution but not technically part
of the curia, the academy is an international advisory network of scientists,
primarily, who provide rhetorical and scholarly support to the Vatican and its
allies in the antiabortion and defence-of-the-family
pope's own personal means of influence, of course, are varied and immeasurable.
These include personal meetings with heads of state and other political
leaders. June 1997 presented an extraordinary example of this approach, when
John Paul II brought seven European presidents to meet with him personally in
his homeland and attend a three-hour open-air Mass before a crowd
of 250,000. Europe's Christian tradition must be maintained through the
continent's unification, the pope told these leaders, who came from the Czech
Republic, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and the Ukraine-one
European Union member state and several EU members-to-be.6
Bringing the Media to Bear
Cardinal Thomas Winning, primate of Scotland and a member of
the presidential committee of the Pontifical Council for the Family,
demonstrated the hierarchy's use of the media when he challenged British Labour
Party leader Tony Blair for his abortion politics during the run-up to
the 1997 national elections. Put on the defensive by Winning, Blair said he
personally opposes abortion but supports its legality because he considers it a
matter of personal conscience. The angry reaction of the antiabortion lobby and
the ensuing commentary kept the story alive in the media and in the public eye.
While Blair's candidacy was ultimately undamaged, Winning had managed to make
abortion an issue and bring it to the forefront of the election campaign.
Britain's primate, Cardinal Basil Hume, more moderate in
style than Winning, also kept the issue before the media when he
declared-inaccurately but pointedly-that Catholics would not vote for a
candidate who supported legal abortion. Normally, `Hume will go to see a
minister privately first, and politicians know that making a public fuss is his
ultimate threat.... [H]e does get listened to. He talks to ministers on equal
terms because he's English and upper middle class; he's an establishment figure
who understands how the establishment works.""
Hume and the bishops of England and Wales had drawn media
attention to an array of social justice issues last autumn with a pre-election
briefing that was widely read as an endorsement of Blair's Labour party,
despite the bishops' disavowal of partisanship. In "The Common Good,"
a discussion document to prepare Catholics for the election, they condemned
laissez-faire capitalism, supported union membership and a minimum wage,
and counseled Catholics against single-issue evaluations of the
* Peter Stanford, former editor of the Catholic Herald, quoted
in Joanna Moorhead, "Cardinal Hume: Is He the Nation's New Moral Leader?'
Independent on Sunday, 5 Jan. 1997.
dozens of foreign trips, each with opportunities to address huge crowds, the
pope almost invariably has stressed the family and gender issues at the heart
of his vision. These themes also dominate his addresses to specialised
audiences, ranging from gatherings of Catholic scientists or interreligious
groups to, in 1995, the general assembly of the United Nations. The pope's
travels also provide other occasions to deliver his message; his 1997 trip to
France was to include a visit to the grave of his friend and one of France's
most prestigious campaigners against abortion, the biologist Jerome Lejeune-a
personal pilgrimage with a very public message.
the Vatican counts not only on the direct effect of the pope's personal
contact, but also on its exposure to millions through the media. For example,
in 1994, when the pope was struggling against the collapse of Italy's scandal-ridden
Christian Democratic party-and attempting, through this local effort, to
bolster kindred parties throughout Europe-he delivered to the Italian bishops a
political analysis of the role of Christian Democratic leaders in Italy and in
post-World War European politics.7 These leaders' political heritage must
be "developed and rein forced," the pope said, to counter
"negative" secular trends that could render society "neutral on
the level of' values." While addressed to One nation's bishops, this
statement on the importance of Christian political parties clearly was intended
for - and through the media reached a
far broader audience.
efforts are of high priority to the Vatican at the close of the twentieth
century. The Press Office of the Holy See is directed by Joaquin Navarro-Valls,
a Spanish journalist and physician-and member of the conservative movement Opus
Dei8-whom the pope chose to create a modern, sophisticated, and intensely
active media operation for the Vatican. The Vatican achieved a particularly
high profile before and during the United Nations conference on population and
development, in Cairo in 1994, and to a lesser extent, the UN conference on
women during the following year.
office also runs the Vatican Information Service, which reports the
Vatican's perspective on church and other current events, mainly for the
world's bishops but also for journalists; it is now available on the internet.
Other public relations outlets include the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore
Romano, an official voice of the pope and curia, and Vatican Radio,
which pro duces programmes in about thirty languages and reaches nearly every
country in the world.9
Pope John Paul's election inspired Lopez
Trujillo. "Prepare your bomber planes," he wrote to a friend.
"May your blows be evangelical and sure."
The Catholic Hierarchy
The cardinals, archbishops, and
bishops everywhere maintain relationships with government and other leaders and
routinely participate in public policy. They do so not only singly but
together, through national conferences of bishops - which work
politically as well as religiously within their Countries and in regional
committees of these episcopal conferences, such as the Committee of European
Bishops' Conferences, based in Brussels. National conferences sometimes
work together internationally, as when the presidents of the episcopal
commissions for the family in several al European nations issued a joint
statement in advance of the 1994 UN conference on population.
episcopal conferences, while working with the Vatican to promote the
hierarchy's shared agenda, at times also come into conflict with the Vatican.
These conflicts may appear subtle to outsiders - leading bishops or an
episcopal conference simply may issue a statement that interprets Vatican
policy or teaching more flexibly
than the Vatican likes, without explicitly acknowledging this tension. For
example, in 1996 the Social Commission of the French bishops issued a document
on AIDS that indicated some tolerance of condom use by people at risk of
catching to transmitting the virus, if they are unwilling to give up sexual
activity number of bishops in Spain, Germany Austria, the Netherlands, and
Portugal went on to suggest that condoms should be used in such cases.10
The Diplomatic Corps
The hierarchy`s means of
influencing governments include official diplomatic channels. The Vatican-or
the Holy See, as it prefers to be allied in diplomatic contexts- maintains full
diplomatic relations with more than 150 countries.11 Ambassadors,
called nuncios, are assigned to most countries. Usually an archbishop, the
nuncio functions boil as a diplomat and, within the church as the pope's
liaison to the bishops of that country. At the same time. European governments
also directly through the ambassadors s whom they post at the Vatican.
nations, the major international organisations-including the United Nations and
European Union recognise the Holy See as a state, notwithstanding its tiny size
(less than half a kilometer square) and unique citizenry (mainly male and
ordained). Interestingly, when the Vatican was admitted as an observer to the
World Trade Organisation in 1997, it was the first time that leaders in other
religions issued a significant demand for the same status for their major
the Holy See is not a member of the European Union, official Vatican
delegations to European institutions bring direct influence to bear on European
poli cy making. Similarly, Vatican delegations are active in the organisations
of the United Nations, where the Holy See is a Non-Member State Permanent
Observer (a status shared only by Switzerland) and in UN conferences, where the
Vatican often is accorded the status of a full member state. It uses its status
fully, both in official meetings and in the rounds of unofficial negotiations
and exchanges that precede and parallel them.
Vatican long has sent official delegations to the United Nations, including its
agencies and conference, and to the Council of Europe, it did not appoint a
fulltime chargé d'affaires to the European Union until September' 1996. This
important appointment has gone to Monsignor Alain Lebeaupin, previously a top
official of the Vatican diplomatic corps. Earlier, the church's main
representative to the European Union had been the Brussels-based
Committee of European Bishops' Conferences. (with the Vatican's nuncio to
Belgium also playing a minimal role) . Lebeaupin's appointment is a vote of no
confidence in the' European bishops' relatively nuanced perspective, and to church.. and political insiders, it
signals the advent of a more hard-line, single issue approach.
Professionals "Who Know Their Business"
"In pushing his political and international agenda, the
pope has a trained diplomatic service and the Roman curia to argue his case. At
the UN conference in Cairo, on population, for example, the staff of the Secretariat
of State, the Council on Justice and Peace, and the Council on the Family were
important in preparing supportive documentation and in arguing the Vatican
case. The Secretariat of State and its nunciatures around the world are also
tremendously helpful. Nuncios gather information and report back to the
Secretariat of State and the other dicasteries [departments of the curia]. They
also speak for the pope to local governments and local churches. As
professional diplomats who know their business, they are given high grades by
their secular counter parts because of their training, experience, and
extensive contacts in the country. While most embassies have few contacts
outside government circles, nunciatures through contacts with the local church
have sources of information unavailable to most embassies many times their
size. The newsgathering potential of these contacts would be the envy of CNN or
the CIA. This is one reason governments find it valuable to have embassies to
the Holy See."
- church political analyst Thomas J. Reese, SJa
* Thomas J. Reese,
Inside the Vatican (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1996),
Backing Vatican efforts are
various conservative movements of the Catholic laity. Many lay persons with
whom the Vatican-and hierarchy work occupy important positions, from
national politics, media, and academic institutions to the institutions of the
European Union. A number of these influential figures belong to national and
international antiabortion or traditionalist defence-of-the-family
associations, with which the Vatican also works at the organisational level.
- The Vatican's partners
also include the vast religious organisations (called "ecclesial"
movements) that have mushroomed during the papacy of John Paul II - such
as Communion and Liberation, Focolare, and Neocatechumenate. These movements
reinforce the established presence of Opus Dei, the wealthiest and most
powerful of the archconservative Catholic move ments13; many of
their members are involved in politics or academia, as ,well as in the
antiabortion and family movements. The ecclesial movements-with their
centralised hierarchies, traditionalist moral outlook, and members in positions
of public influence have proved a boon' to the pope in his effort to promote
his vision of family and gender.
Working Diplomatic Channels
The Vatican worked through all of its diplomatic channels in
the preparatory phase before the United Nations conference in Cairo on
population; and development, In 1994 - marshaling its nuncios and its delegates
to European and UN Institutions, relying on the national and regional bishops
conferences to help, and practicing the art of persuasion on foreign
Most dramatically, all ambassadors to the Holy See were
summoned six months before the conference by the Vatican Secretary of State,
Cardinal Angelo Sodano. He and Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the
Pontifical Council for the Family, instructed the diplomats on the Vatican's
position on population issuesa and decried the supposed UN
"ideology of fear of the future."b
Meanwhile, Vatican emissary Diarmuid Martin spent months
traveling from country to country. to meet with foreign ministers and
representatives of government and develop ment agencies-such as Britain's
Baroness Lynda Chalker, minister for overseas development-to impress upon them
the Vatican's positions. Martin's diplomatic toil complemented meetings and
correspondence at higher levels. For example, several months before the
conference, the pope held well-pubilcised private meetings with the
conference secretary-general, Nafis Sadik, and with US president Bill
Also in anticipation of Cairo, the presidents of the
episcopal commissions for the family in eleven European countries-Austria,
Belgium, Croatia, France, Greece, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland,
Portugal, and Scotland-admonished European governments not to take "the
grave moral responsibility of exporting to developing countries the model of
life characterised by the `demographic winter,' by adopting the politics of a
drastic reduction of the' world population."c
a "Vatican Summons Envoys over Population Issues,"
Reuter, 25 Mar., 1994. Victor Farnier,
b "L'Alliance de Ia Croix et du Croissant," Golias
(Paris) 38 (Sept./Oct. 1994), p. 46.
c Ibid., p. 47.
Part II: From Strategy to Action
The Nerve Centre- The Pontifical Council for the Family
If the cultural struggle over
family and gender were a military campaign, the Pontifical council for the
Family would have to be considered the operations room in Pope John Paul's
offensive against liberalism and modernity. Organising numerous events, some of
them enormous, and working closely with other Vatican bodies and lay
organisations, this council is the most active of all the Vatican's
administrative organisations, according to a council official and Vatican
observers. Among other tasks, the council coordinates an array of activities
intended directly or indirectly to influence legislation and policy touching on
all aspects of the family, gender, sexuality, and reproduction. The council has
coined the term "family politics" to describe its activity.
European Union particularly vexes the council. One concern is EU funding of
international programmes related to population and reproductive health-areas
that inevitably entail contraceptive services and abortion, both of which the
Vatican considers evil regardless of how noncoercively they are made available.14
The Vatican also fears that the European Community will promote toleration of
nontraditional, including homosexual, families. Recommendations adopted at a
1996 meeting sponsored by the council complained that EU programmes and
policies entail "threats" including the introduction of spurious
`tights' with regard to reproductive health, homosexuality and abortion; the
redefinition of family; the ‘gender’ ideology, etc."15
Council for the Family is the Vatican body closest to the heart of Pope John
Paul II. Its wide-ranging agenda includes `rights of the, family,"
homosexuality and "sexual deviations," "responsible procreation
and the natural methods of regulating fertility," and
"life"-which for the council encompasses not only abortion and
euthansia but also contraception, stetilisation, genetic engineering, prenatal
diagnosis, artificial procreation, and "manipulation of embryos."16
"We do not use the term sex education, which is far too narrow," says
a council official, elaborating on the agenda.17 "Instead we
say education for chastity.'"
council's view, the official explains, "the basic unit of society is, not
the person but the family"- a view that fundamentally challenges' modern
understandings of individual liberty and self-determination. The official
indicated that one of the council's alms is to halt legislation allowing
homosexuals to form legal unions ,or adopt children. Condemning "vague
definitions of the family as any group of people," he identified the
enemy" as "highly organised secular humanists in the UN and European
The European Union "Is Investing millions to prevent you [women] from
being women, castrating you, and humiliating you."
Parliamentarian Roberto Mezzaroma
the family council's tone is the pope's long-time associate, Colombian
cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo. As president of the council since 1990, Lopez
Trujillo is among the most widely traveled of Vatican bureaucrats, consistently
visiting local antiabortion and family groups around the world and attending
the many events his council organises. He is famed as much for his
indefatigable-activity as for his extreme traditionalism.
association between Lopez Trujillo and the pope goes back as far as 1974, when
the then-auxiliary bishop of Bogota and the pope (then Cardinal Karol
Wojtyla) worked together against liberation theology at Opus Dei's centre for
priests in Rome.18 Back in South America during the 1980s, Lopez Trujillo used
his considerable connections and energy to impede left leaning Christian base
communities and liberation theology, even channeling international development
funds into this mission, according to the late Vaticanologist Peter
Hebblethwaite.19 The election of Wojtyla as pope in 1978 could not
have pleased Lopez Trujillo more. "Prepare your bomber planes," he
wrote to a like-minded Brasilian archbishop. "You must start
training the way boxers do before going into the ring for a world championship.
May your blows be evangelical and sure."20 During the papacy of
John Paul II, Cardinal Lopez Trujillo has risen faster and further than any
"It is ... urgent to pay attention to what is happening
in parliaments, where the legislative trends in the area of,... the family
present many disturbing' aspects."
- Pope John Paul II
Lopez Trujillo, couples sitting on the Council for the Family are carefully
selected for their adherence to the church's centralised authority and official
teaching-"otherwise it would be absurd," a council official, says.21
addition to several Opus Dei members22 council members include
Cristina Vollmer, the leader of the World Association for the Family, and her
husband Alberto, who is Venezuela's ambassador to the Holy See and Danilo and
Annamaria Zanzucchi, leaders of the New Families Movement of Focolare.
All these organisations are
militant campaigners in favour of traditionalist "family" values.
Council for the Family also draws on e combined strength of Vatican bodies: it
works with the Secretariat of State, the charitable arm know as Cor Unum,
and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in its dealings with the
developing world. It organises congresses with the Pontifical Council for Other
Religions, thus forging alliances in the field of the family and gender with
members of other faiths alliances on `which it draws in international forums,
such as the UN conferences' on population and women.
Working with the Congregation for
the Bishops, the Council for the Family conducts courses around the world for
members of the hierarchy. These seminars have' briefed bishops on how to answer
questions from the press on reproduction, sexuality, bioethics, and AIDS and
HW. Among the instructors are lecturers from Opus Dei's university in Rome,'the
Holy Cross Atheneum. Although bishops are not obligated to participate, the
courses are well attended; Cardinal Lopez Trujillo himself sits in.
promote the Vatican's vision at the grassroots, the Council for the Family
organised the World Meeting of the Holy Father with Families, held in St.
Peter's Square in October 1994. Leaden and members of antiabortion and defence-of-the-family
organisations from around the world figured prominently. That `meeting built on
the momentum of the pope's efforts to quash the "antifamily" Cairo
conference-the UN meeting on population, which had ended the month before-and
to galvanise the grass roots against `national measures to implement the
conference's Programme of Action. A second World Meeting of the Holy, Father
with Families is to take place in October 1997 in Rio de Janeiro. The site is
interesting, given that Brasil's parliament has been debating the partial
decriminalisation of abortion. A high-profile event drawing attention to
the pope's views and passion on this issue, and mobilising grassroots
organisations, will convey the Vatican's message strongly to the nation's
Partners in Parliament
Council for the Family works closely with sympathetic politicians and
legislators, helping to focus and coordinate their activity on family and
gender issues. At the Third World Congress of Pro.. Life Movements in 1995, for
example, the council held a meeting for politicians and legislators, to
"look on the international level at specific themes regarding legislation
and action in favour of life."23 The pope also highlighted legislative
trends and activism in addressing the full congress (below, Defence-of-the
FAMILY AND ANTIABORTION MOVEMENTS, page 12). Concerned with law at all levels,
the Vatican maintains relationships with politicians at both the national and
inter national levels.
"In the schools, and the media, young people
are often the targets of systematic anti-life, sex education."
- the Council for the Family's "Rome Pro-life
The Vatican has close allies
within several European national parliaments. The leader of the Catholic group
in Italy's governing coalition, Ombretta Fumagalli Carulli of the right-wing.
Centro Cristiano Democratico party, provided a char acteristic example of the
work of these, allies' in 1996 when she spear headed the fight against proposed
family law reforms. Fumagalli Carulli, who is close to' Opus Dei,24 mustered
the support of right-wing Catholic lobbying groups against a proposal to
abolish the allocation of blame for marital breakdown; short en the waiting
period for divorce; award the marital borne, and physical protection, to
victims of marital violence; and determine property settlements on a case-by-case
basis, so as to consider the woman's career status. To Fumagalli Carulli and
her allies, these reforms would undermine the traditional family.
the Vatican's strong allies in the French parliament, Christine Boutin
(reelected in 1997), is a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Boutin frequently proposes legislation against legal abortion.25
THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
The Vatican's allies are active
within the European Parliament, where Italian MEP Carlo Casini coordinates the
Vatican line on abortion and related issues. Casini's bloc was vociferous at the
reading of the "Nordmann" report on proposals to regulate population
policies and aid.26 In essence, the report advocated EU
international assistance for reproductive health and other programmes to enable
women and couples to excercise choice over child bearing. MEP Roberto
Mezzaroma,' of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, denounced this, claiming
that the document told women, "leave it to us to stop you carrying out
your roles as mothers. A large part of the world, including the European Union,
is investing millions to pre vent you from being women, castrat ing you and
humiliating you.... Everything is being done to mortify [woman] in her great
gift of the cre ation of new lives."27
"The true liberation of women occurs when
they rediscover their dignity and role as the bearers of life....."
- the Council for the Family's "Rome Pro-life
1997, the European Parliament took up the European Commission's proposed
regulation on population policies and pro grammes, the final goal of the
Nordmann report. The Vatican's allies demonstrated one of their tactics:
clogging the process with amendments that, while sometimes superficially
unobjectionable, appear to be vehicles for repeating Vatican rhetoric on its
family and gender concerns. For example, MEP Hans-Peter Liese, of
Germany's Christlich Demokratische Union, presented the following amendment to
the population policy regulation: "The countries or organisations who
authorise or favour forced abortion or sterilisation or the murder of infants
as a means of curbing demo graphic growth should be excluded from the benefits
of community aid." This amendment was passed despite warnings that Liese's
unde fined terms could be used to dis qualify some NGOs or even UN agencies for
EU support. In the end, however, the Council of Ministers dropped Liese's amend
ment from the final regulation, deeming it unnecessary given other provisions
against forced sterilisa tions and abortions or those encouraged through
Nordmann report was before the EP Committee on Development and Cooperation,
Liese had proposed another amend ment incorporating the Vatican's rhetorical
stance. It began with a general statement that would com mand reflexive
agreement among many members-"abortion should under no circumstances be
encour aged as a family planning method" [emphases added]-and then it
linked this principle to a debated position on a distinct question:
"Abortions will not therefore
be funded under this budget heading." The first part of his amendment was
accepted, but the committee reject ed the proposed ban on the fund ing of
abortions with EU aid.
showed some of his parlia mentary acumen when he proposed a similar amendment
before the full parliament: The vote was postponed until a Friday morning, when
most menibérs normally have left Strasbourg. On this occasion, all antiabortion
members remained for the vote, while opponents of the amendment departed as
usual-and so the amendment was passed. Later, out of Casini's reach, the European
Commission discarded the second clause.
Vatican ally in the European Parliament is France's Françoise Seillier. Said to
be close to Opus Dei,29 Seillier is a former vice president of the right-wing
Association Familiales Catholiques and a member of Combat pour les Valeurs. A
right-wing movement founded by Christine Boutin and Viscount Philippe de
Villiers, Combat pour les Valeurs gave rise to a political party Movement pour
le France-that occupies the extreme right along with Jean-Marie Le Pen's
National Front. Seillier is close to the Vatican: she has been granted private
audiences with the pope, and after being elected to the European Parliament in
1994, she met with Cardinal Lopez Trujilo.
European Parliament, Seillier sits on the Committee on Culture, Youth,
Education and the Media and the Committee on Women's Rights; she also serves in
the European Parliament delega tions to Poland and Romania. Seillier vigilantly
repulses what she terms "pernicious attacks in the field of life,"30
and she is a leading opponent of legal recognition of homosexual unions (see
sidebai page 13). Seillier also has urged the European Commission to take
"a genuine look, from the economic point of view, at what is represented
by this primary occupation [of housewife and mother], indispens able to the
life society, of bring ing children into this world and carrying out all the
activities of every aspect of home, life."31
THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
While supporters of the Vatican
line on family and gender often are thwarted in the European Parliament, Rome
has had consider ably more success in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council
of Europe. The assembly has no legislative powers, but its declarations are
looked upon as having considerable moral authority and thus influence other
international policy-making institutions.
United Nations sought the Parliamentary Assembly's views during preparations
for the Cairo conference on population and developments.32 Led by
stalwart Vatican allies, the Christian Democrats in the assembly strategically
shifted the tone of the assembly's ensuing report to the United Nations,
qualifying language oriented toward reproductive liberty and personal decision
making with Vatican phrasing. For example, the report originally stated, "The
assembly stresses that all population politics must be based on freedom of
choice"; as amended, the assembly stressed "that all population
politics must be based on freedom of choice in the belief that the choice of
responsible procreation is an inalienable right of all couples" (italics
to highlight amend ment). The amendment implicitly ex4udes individuals,
defining free dom of choice as a right of "couples." Further,
procreative "responsibility" is the Vatican's term for rejection of
contraceptives as well as abortion and for a social vision in which children
are a woman's presumed primary focus. Parliamentarians sympathetic to the
Vatican wear down resistance by repeatedly proposing such seemingly innocuous,
vague language. Later, the Vatican can present those pas sages as being
consistent with the full scope of its related positions.
amendment to the next sentence of the report completely altered its original
sense, again pro scribing personal liberty. The sentence, with the Vatican-inspired
addition in italics, finally read: "This freedom based on the values of
life and the family can only be exercised in the sociopolitical context of the
respect for human dignity, the equality between the sexes and pluralist and
participational democracy." In the Vatican's terms, "the values of
life and the family" exclude contraception (even within marriage),
restrict sex to married couples, direct marriage primarily toward child bearing
and rearing, and require that traditional gender roles both maintain, and be maintained
through, a patriarchal family paradigm.
report recommended aid to improve education and health in developing countries,
highlighting two basic conditions of equity that are matters of consensus among
centrist and progressive poli cy makers: "the development of family
planning services" and the "self-determination of women."
Parliamentarians sympathetic to the Vatican erased both of these objectives,
however, replacing the phrases with a thicket of verbiage that resists any,
much less progressive, interpretation: "the development of demo graphic
educational services as well as the juridical and social condition of women so
as to give couples [men and women] the necessary means to take a fully
responsible decision on the number of their children."
Thus the assembly's report to the
United Nations assumed the Vatican's tone, with recommendations placed within
the context of `"family values." Such episodes with in the Council of
Europe suggest that it could be the Trojan horse by which the Vatican might
exert its greatest influence within European institutions.
unions, the pope says, will legitimise "moral disorder" and
"damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among
and Antiabortion Movements
and defence-of-the family activists play a crucial role in
international lobbying for the Vatican. Often at odds with each other, these
groups are brought together as partners by the Pontifical council for the
Family. The council recently named Frank Pavone, leader of the American group
Priests for Life, to formulate and coordinate strategy for these organisations,
suggesting an intention to organise them on an increasingly practical basis.33
council holds large international events, such as the World. Congress of Pro-Life
Movements, to rally the activists and guide their leaders. The third and most
recent congress, held in Rome in October 1995, drew more, than 1,200 people
from sixty countries. Although the overwhelming majority of participants were
Catholic, the council, promotes an ecumenical image, saying it invited
"all the leaders of the movements ... that defend human life, believers
and nonbelievers, denominational and nondenominational."34
the Vatican ,depends on the leaders of these movements. At the 1995 congress,
Pope John Paul II told them:
It is clear to all that the
defence of life is a commit ment which not only concerns private morality, but
is. also a social and political issue: indeed it calls into question the very
raison d'être of political society. It follows that the commitment to the
defence of life cannot fail to be reflected by peaceful, convinced community
action at the level of custom, culture and legislation.... It is urgent to pay
attention to what is happening in parliaments, where the legislative trends in
the area of biological law and the protection of human corporeity and the
family present many disturbing aspects. Those who have at heart the dignity of
the person and the future destiny of. humanity cannot forego a vigilant and
the political theme was MEP Carlo Casini, who spoke on "the right to life
as a political problem.36
to the Vatican and its allies, encompasses virtually every issue touching on
the family, human sexuality, and bioethics. Indeed, the pope told the 1995
congress, "Family and life are an inseparable pair." Conservative
positions on a gamut of issues are linked to the antiabortion ticket, so as to
capitalise on sentiment on this most controversial of topics. The 1995
congress's official declaration, called "The Rome Pro-life
Manifesto," covered issues from sex education- "in the schools and
the media, young people are often the targets of systematic anti-life sex
education" - to the social roles of women.37 `The true liberation of women
occurs when they rediscover their dignity and role as the bearers of life who
care for the weakest and most vulnerable," says the document.38
Recommendations adopted at a Council for the Family meeting on demography in
1996 expressed the same perspective on gender, this time in the language of
One of the most important
factors behind the demo graphic crisis [of falling fertility rates] in Europe is
the role of women. The factors which lead women to work outside the home have
resulted in a lower birth rate. An overemphasis on a woman's activities outside
the home has brought about less esteem for mother hood and a woman's role in
The Vatican's partnership with antiabortion and family
groups on this issue was at its height at the United Nations Cairo conference
on population and development and the Beijing conference On women (in 1994 and
1995, respectively) . In 1994 Cardinal Lopez Trujillo met with leaders of
twenty-two European movements to coordinate lobbying within the European
Parliament and the Council of Europe on the European stance at Cairo: The final
declaration of their meeting attacked the Cairo conference's evolving Programme
of Action, saying it suggested "the repression of developing countries by
the wealthy nations, by means of a contraceptive colonisation based on an
inhuman control of the population."40 In fact, however, the
document drafted by the international community - led by a woman from a
developing country, Nafis Sadik - clearly aimed to enable women to avoid
unintended pregnancies, through expanded services and options, while
Sexual and reproductive
health care programmes, including family planning ser vices, must provide the
widest possible freedom of choice. Coercion in those programmes, whether
physical, economic, or psychological, is a breach of human rights and can never
be acceptable (Principle 8).
Among those defending the Cairo document against Vatican
criticism was Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.41
Yet the antiabortion, defence-of-the-family
lobbies have, certain real strengths. One is their remarkable diligence. The
Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, to highlight a particularly
assiduous example, responds to every opportunity in the European Parliament to
lobby members on family and life issues.
In addition, these groups are consciously developing their
expertise in important areas. "The goals of your strategy," the pope
told them at the 1995 World Congress of Prolife Movements, "require a more
thorough training in the area of medical, ethical, legal and social
issues."42 To these, campaigners such as MEP Carlo Casini would add a
presence in the media."45 Antiabortion and family-defence
organisations are tackling each of these strategic areas, systematically, to
buttress their political struggle.
Vatican-Allied Ecclesial Movements
If the years following the Second Vatican Council have
witnessed a decline in the Vatican's influence over the mass of lay Catholics,
they have also seen a startling growth of hard-line traditionalist
movements. Among the strongest of these are three of the older ones, which pre
date Vatican II: Communion and Liberation, Focolare, and Neocatechumenate.44
These "new ecclesial movements," alongside their forerunner, Opus
Dei, have proved powerful allies in Pope John Paul II's struggle against modern
understandings of gender and sexuality.
These movements as are considered "affidabili,"
or reliable, by Vatican policy-making and administrative agencies. In the
current pontificate, they have usurped the role of the religious orders, which
Vatican officials regard as unruly. Although nominally they are lay movements,
they include priests, religious women, and even bishops and cardinals. Many
important clerical curial appointments are drawn from their ranks, and the
movements are well represented in both executive an4 consultative roles in
Vatican congregations and councils. Focolare and Communion and Liberation are
rapidly approaching Opus Dei's strength in the curia. Two leading members of
Communion and Liberation - Bishop Angelo Scola and Rocco Buttiglione, leader of
the Cristiani Democratici Uniti party - were advisors in an early, severe draft
of Pope John Paul's 1993 encyclical on morality, Veritatis splendor (The
Splendour of Truth) .45 In addition, each of these new movements, along with
Opus Dei, is represented by a married couple on the Pontifical Council for the
Policies and publications of these movements not only
reflect official Vatican pronouncements on gender and family matters, but they
go further. For example, Neocatechumenate denies its members even periodic
abstinence46 - the one method the Vatican approves for spacing or
limiting births: Focolare, Neocatechumenate, and Opus Dei promote
"cures" for homosexuals. Homosexual, Who Are You? published by
Focolare's house Citta Nuova, declares that gays are "guilty of
involuntary murder by giving AIDS to young people."
The monolithic nature of these movements makes them an even
more useful partner to the Vatican than the antiabortion and defence of-the-family
groups. While both sectors carry out grassroots lobbying activities, the
ecclesial movements are uniquely valuable for the breadth, of their
international presence, their hierarchical cultures of obedience, their
organisational efficiency, and internal communications systems that rival those
of stream lined multinational corporations.
A Focolare book declares, gays "guilty of involuntary
murder by giving AIDS to young people."
Mass support backs up the leaders of these groups. At a
congress of twenty traditionalist movements in 1987, the leaders claimed, to
represent a total of thirty million members dedicated to "total
militancy."47 The groups hold mass events, such as the World Youth Days,
which have become a characteristic form of outreach of the current papacy.
Similarly,, the new movements play important roles in Vatican plans for major
events like Holy Years and the forthcoming Millennium celebrations.
But the real usefulness of the movements is their ability
to pursue the Vatican's aims at the top - through members well placed in
politics, academia, and the media - backed by vast lobbying resources, both
human and financial. This was clear in Italy in 1993 and, 1994 when the pope
was anxious to preserve the Christian Democrat party then floundering at the
centre of the Italian bribery scandals. Carnillo Ruini, cardinal vicar of Rome
and secretary of the conference of' Italian bishops, repeatedly summoned
representatives of Focolare Neocatechumenate, Communion and Liberation, and
Opus Dei to the Lateran Palace to brief them on the pope's wishes.48 While
scandal finally overwhelmed the Christian Democrats; the episode demonstrates
how figures at the heart of the Vatican rely on these movements as an avenue of
Each of these movements tends to have a millennial view of
its own function - an exclusive mission to "save" the church, indeed,
to save. the world. Although that view would lead them some ways to be-
in competition with one another, lately a strategic alliance has been forming -
a result, perhaps, of years of effort by the Pontifical Council for the `Laity
to urge cooperation.49 Already, two leading figures in Communion and
Liberation, Bishop Angelo Scola and Massimo, Camisasca, have been appointed to
the top two positions of the Opus Dei-dominated John Paul II Institute
for Studies on Marriage and the Family. Similarly, two' branches of the institute
(in Spain and Mexico) have been entrusted to the highly traditionalist
Legionaries of Christ. Another sign of rapprochement was the appearance of Kiko
Arguello, founder of Neocatechumenate, at a major Communion and Liberation
meeting in 1996.
Indeed, movement leaders may be starting to appreciate the
potential of their combined strength.
Communion and Liberation founder Don Luigi Giussani has,
described the complementarity of his group with Opus Del this way:
"We of CL are like
guerrillas, irregular forces throwing stones. We do our part, provoking brawls
from time to time. But they, the people of the Work [Opus Dei], have their,
Panzer tanks: They keep advancing, their caterpillar tracks always turning,
even though they are fitted with rubber tyres: They make no sound, but they are
present - and how! We will become ever more aware of them - you'll see!"50
A Public Responsibility
The Roman Catholic hierarchy is, growing more conservative,
and the Vatican sees the secular world - in Europe and the United States, at
least - as morally bankrupt. As a result, the hierarchy's leaders are
emphasising with renewed passion their vision of family, gender sexuality, and
reproduction. At the same time, they are reasserting the notion that their
teachings are not just for Catholics but are the natural law, universal truths
that transcend religious and political distinctions.
The conservative hierarchy is responding to the
increasingly apparent failures of its evangelisation by intensifying efforts to
exert influence politically. If the hierarchy cannot affect hearts, perhaps it
can effect laws. The Vatican and its partners are formidable in the public
arena. They possess a vigorous and established voice in policy making at all
levels throughout European nations and the European Union, as religious
figures, as parliamentarians, as lobbyists, as business leaders, and as
scholars. This alliance has shown tenacity and tactical skill, and it is
increasingly well organised and sophisticated. Moreover, the Roman curia thinks
in centuries-- its strategy for advancing its positions is a long-term,
The Catholic church has every right to participate in
public life. Indeed, religious perspectives can lend too much of value to
public policy to permit their exclusion. Yet, parliamentarians and other makers
of policy do need to evaluate positions advocated by religious figures just as
they would those from other quarters frankly and unsentimentally, unmoved by
their mystique and uncowed by the popular or divine support that their
advocates may claim.
The first step in this devaluation is to ask, for whom does
this institution claim to speak, and does that constituency in fact share these
views? It has been amply demonstrated elsewhere that huge proportions of
Catholics reject positions taken by the Catholic hierarchy on sexuality, family
life, gender, and reproductive health.51
Policy makers should ask, too, whether all advocates are
factually honest and correct. Often, the Catholic hierarchy and its allies are
not. Their misrepresentations of the Cairo and Beijing programmes were signal
`Further, government officials must determine whether
proposals would serve the common good - achieving positive ends while
respecting diverse religious views, and the principles of pluralism and
tolerance; The hierarchy's prohibition of the use of contraception - even for
married Catholics - proves the necessity of testing all its positions, against
the standard of the common good.
Finally, pragmatism is important. Are individuals and
families made stable, healthy, ad socially productive by public policy that
disfavours contraception or forbids homosexual unions? Is the incidence of
abortion curtailed by criminal status, or does illegality only prolong the
public health and family devastation caused by unsafe clandestine procedures?
The Vatican and its partners are formidable, Yet, if policy
makers apply these criteria to the positions they present on gender, families,
sexuality, and reproductive health, those positions will be rejected.
1 The Second Vatican
Council, 1962-65, is the pivotal event in twentieth-century church
history. Initiated by Pope John XXIII, the council brought the world's bishops
together in Rome to modernise the church. Among the documents drawn up by the
council are the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis humanae), which
recognized the distinction between church and state, and the Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et apes).
2 Sources on the
structure staff and function of curial bodies include Annuario Pontificio, the
Vatican's annual listing; P.J. Kenedy & Sons, The Official Catholic
Directory 1997 (New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, 1997); and Felician A. Foy,
ed., Catholic Almanac 1995 (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1994).
3 Official Catholic
4 Thomas J. Reese,
Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church
(Cambridge, MA, and London; Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 118-19.
5 Catholic Almanac 1995.
6 "Pope Meets with
European Presidents, Associated Press, June 3, 1997,
7 Catholic News Service,
"Political Action," Catholic New York, Jan. 13, 1994.
8 For an overview of the
structure, aims, and methods of Opus Del, see Gordon Urquhart and Catholics for
a Free Choice, "Opus Dei: The Pope's Right Arm in Europe," in the
series Conservative Catholic Influence in Europe (Washington: CFFC, 1997). On
the pope's image and Navarro-Valls, see also David Remnick, “The Pope in
Crisis," The New Yorker, 17 Oct. 1994 (one of the many journalists linking
Navarro-Valls to Opus Dei).
9 Reuter, June 18, 1997.
10 Catholic, News
Service, "Quiet Observer: Vatican Takes a Patient Path in Church Debate on
Condoms," Catholic New York, 29 Feb. 1996; Pamela Schaeffer, "Condoms
Tolerated to Avoid AIDS, French Bishops Say," National Catholic Reporter
(US), 23 Feb. 1996; "The Lesser Evil," Catholic World Report, May
1996; "Condom Debate Joined,"
Catholic World Report, Apr. I996; Robert Kelly, "Nothing Really New in
AIDS Document," National Catholic Register (US), 3 Mar. 1996.
11 Catholic Almanac 1995
and "Expert in Humanity': The Church in the Modern World - the Holy See in
the International Arena," speech by Archbishop Renato Martino, papal
nuncio to the United Nations, at the Newman Centre, University of Toronto,
Canada. 15 Nov. 1995, printed in Catholic International, vol.7, no. I (Jan.
12 Muslim countries,
asked that Islamic entities be accorded the same status. Also interesting is
that the WTO had to waive its rules to admit the Vatican: normally, observers
must apply for full membership within five years, but the Vatican does not want
full membership. "Vatican Gets WHO Status," Associated Press, July
13 "Opus Dei: The
Pope's Right Arm in Europe" (note 8).
adopted at the "Family and Demography in Europe" meeting, held by the
Pontifical Council for the Family, published in L'Osservatore Romano, 26 Oct.
1996 (6 Nov. 1996 in English language edition). The council's third meeting on
the family and demography, it was the first to focus on Europe.
16 Brochure, Pontifical
Council for the Family, Vatican City, 1993.
17 These comments and
those in the next para graph were made in a Sept. 1996 not-for-attribution
briefing of the author of this report by an official of the Pontifical Council
for the Family.
18 Centro Romano per
Incontri Sacerdotali (CRIS).
19 Peter Hebblethwaite,
The Next Pope: An Enquiry (London: HarperCollins, 1995), p. 117-18.
20 Ibid., quoting letter
to Brasilian archbishop Luciano Cabral Duarte.
briefing (note 17).
22 "Opus Dei: The
Pope's Right Arm in Europe" (note 8).
23 Third World Congress
of Pro-Life Movements, 2- 4 Oct. 1995, covered in Familia et Vita, Pontificium
Consilium Pro Familia, Vatican City, March 1996, p.l6. -
24 Ombretta Fumagalli
Carulli writes regularly for Studi Cattolici, an Opus Dei publication.
Boutina La Passionaria," Golias (Paris), May-June, 1995, p. 56.
26 Sponsored by French
MEPJean-Thomas Nordmann, the report's full tide was "On the proposal
for a Council Regulation (EC) on aid for population policies and programmes in
the developing countries."
27 Debates of the
European Parliament. C166, 23 May 1996 (on Nordmann Report), p.61. Mezzaroma
also signed the Alleanza Cattolica petition against homosexual unions:
Controrivoluzione No. 37. Controrivoluzione is an ultratraditionalist magazine
privately published in Florence.
28 Council Regulation
(EC) No. 1484/97 of 22July 1997: Official Journal of the European Communities,
No. L 202 (30 July 1997).
29 Golias (Paris) and
LeMonde Diplomatique are among those linking Seillier to Opus Dei.
30 Frederic Brunnquell,
"La Strategie de l'Ordre Moral, 42 (May/June 1995)
31 Debates of the
European Parliament, No.4-455/51, 13 Dec. 1994.
32 This account of Cairo-conference-related
events in the Council of Europe comes from "Les Pressions du Vatican sur
le Conseil de I'Europe," Golias 38 (Sept/Oct. l994), pp. 54-5.
33 "Fr. Pavone Asked...,"The
Wanderer (US), 30 Jan. 1997.
34 Familia et Vita,
March 1996 (note 23), p. 16.
35 John Paul II, address
to the Third World Congress of Pro-life Movement. Vatican audience hall,
3 Oct. 1995: in Familia et Vita, March 1996 (note 23), pp. 18-19.
36 Familia et Vita,
March 1996 (note 23), p.16.
37 "Rome Pro-Life
Manifesto," Familia et Vita, March 1996 (emphases in original).
adopted at the "Family and Demography in Europe," meeting held by the
Pontifical Council for the Family, L'Osservatore Romano, 26 Oct. 1996 / English
edition 6 Nov. 1996.
40 "Les Mouvements
Pro Life: La Garde Morale du Papel," Golias (Paris) 38 (Sept./Oct. 1994),
41 "Tutu Challenges
Vatican on Birth Control, Abortion," Reuter, l7 June 1994 - -
42 Familia et Vita,
March 1996, p.19.
43 Interview of Carlo
Casini by the author, 18 Oct. 1996. -
44 Focolare means
"hearth" in Italian. "Neocatechumenate" refers to the
catechumenate, or course of introduction into Christianity required by the
early church - a practice the movement claims to be restoring.
45 Gordon Urquhart, The
Pope's Armada (London: Bantam Press, 1995), p.188.
46 Ibid., p. 240.
47 Press statement of
the Second International Convention of Ecclesial Movements, organised by
Communion and Liberation (along with Catholic Charismatic Renewal and
Schoenstatt), Rocca di Papa, Italy, March 1987; Urquhart, The Pope's Armada,
(note 45), p. 77.80.
48 Recounted by the late
Father Enrico Zoffoli, professor at the Lateran University, in conversations
with the author. -
49 Ibid., throughout.
50 Vittorio Messori,
Opus Dei-Un Indagine (Milan: Mondadori, 1994), p. 17.
51 E.g.. Catholics and
Reproduction. A World View (Washington: Catholics for-a Free Choice,
CATHOLICS FOR A FREE CHOICE
Catholics for a Free Choice, an independent not-for-profit
organisation, is engaged. in research, policy analysis, education, and advocacy
on issues of gender equality and reproductive health. Working In the Catholic
social justice tradition, CFFC Is affiliated with Catholic Organizations for
Renewal, the Women-Church Convergence, and the European Network/Church on
BOARD OF DIRECTORS.
Marysa Navarro-Aranguren, Ph.D., chairperson
Sheila Briggs, M.A.
Silvia Cancio, M.A.
Giles Milhaven, S.T.D.
Radford Ruether, Ph.D.
Wysocki, R.N.C., B.S.N., N.P.
Vatican and Family Politics" is the second report in the series
Influence in Europe. The first report was "Opus Del: The Pope's Right Arm
and written by Gordon Urquhart.
c 1997 by
Catholics for a Free Choice. All Rights Reserved. Published 1997.
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Families - Fighting Homosexual Unions
traditional marriage and gender roles - and preventing the legal recognition of
homosexual unions - is as high a priority for the Vatican as is opposition to
abortion and contraception. Indeed, for the Vatican and Its partners, the
issues are related.
The question of homosexual unions came to a boil in 1994,
the Year of the Family, when the European Parliament considered two unrelated
resolutions, both of which encouraged member states to allow homosexuals to
marry and adopt children. Galvanised, Pope John Paul II sternly attacked
"false and fictitious families composed of two men or two women,"
saying that "to build a family on that basis is wrong and dangerous."
He added that the resolution would legitimise "moral disorder" and
Vatican allies in the European Parliament targeted a
statement in the Year of the Family resolution that "family policy within
the European Union should include the recognition of different types of
households, including, to simplify and summarise, households formed by
homosexuals."c MEP Françoise Seillier led the defeat of this
provision. Insisting that a couple has no inherent right to a child, Seillier
told fellow parliamentarians, "All psychologists - and I am not referring
to moral authority, but to psychologists, to all the specialists in human
sciences - tell us that children need both paternal and maternal models for the
harmonious `development' of their personalities."d EP vice president
Nicole Fontaine joined Seillier, saying that the recognition of homosexual
unions and other nontraditional house holds "does not seem to have its
place in a resolution which blazes the trail for a Community policy on the
Meanwhile, the parliament approved a separate resolution
encouraging the recognition of homosexual unions; the Vatican's allies spent
their strongest attack on `the Year of the Family version because addressing
homosexuality in that context would have implied an: equivalence between
traditional and nontraditional families - the worst possible blow to their
Family groups did their part by mounting massive campaigns.
The ultraconservative Committees for the Defence of Family, Natural and
Christian Order presented to European Commission vice president Carlos Robles
Piquer a petition bearing 136,000 signatures against "the legalisation of
the home sexual family."f Among the signers were one thousand
leaders in various fields, including "15 Cardinals, 70 Bishops and
Archbishops and 80 members of the European and Italian parliaments."g
The Vatican's partners also have fought this battle at `the
national level. In the Italian parliament In 1996, Vatican-allied
lobbyists saw that single parents and homosexuals were excluded from the
benefits of a new law giving tax relief to young adults setting up their first
For the Vatican, much is at stake. Homosexual unions
subvert traditional gender roles, in which women belong primarily to the
private sphere while men own the public sphere. Same-sex unions also
suggest that sexuality is valid without reference to procreation. But to the
Vatican, "Parenthood is the event whereby the family ... is brought about ‘in
the full and specific sense.”h So the pope wrote during the Year of
the Family debate.
The pope also suggests that society is not strong enough
for variation: "Such moral permissiveness cannot fail to damage the
authentic requirements of peace and communion among people." And the
Vatican has condemned adoptive parenting by homosexuals as "monstrous and
amoral ... a challenge to nature and its procreative laws."j
a Victor L. Simpson, Associated Press, 26 Mar. 1994.
b"Italian gays..." (retrospective account),
Reuter, 15 Feb. 1995.
c Debates of the European Parliament, No.4-455/51,
13 Dec. 1994.
h Pope John Paul II, "Letter to Families,"
2 Feb. 1994, section 7.
j Gino Concetti, editorial, L `Osservatore Romano, 8
Partners in Civil
World Congress of Pro-Life Movements in 1995 was open only to activists
who do not "use violent means to carry forward the cause of the defence of
human life,"" according to the Pontifical Council for the Family. But
a council official has suggested a less discriminating attitude. The council
"had a very open policy in favour of prolife groups," he said.
"While not necessarily approving of all their activities, [the council
believes] that they are complementary.""
Randall Terry, founder of the US antiabortion group
Operation Rescue, was invited to a Vatican meeting on antichoice tactics in
1991, and ,he was one of a select group of leaders who met directly with the
pope." "If you believe abortion is murder, you must act like it is
murder!" says Terry, whose goals include the death penalty for doctors per
More subtly, the pope too has encouraged civil
disobedience. "A civil law authorising abortion or euthanasia ceases ...
to be a true, morally binding civil law," he Wrote in his 1995 encyclical
Evangelium vitae. "There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws;
instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious
a Familia et Vita, March1996, p. 16.
b Sept. 1996 not-for-attribution briefing with the
c The meeting was Nov. 14-16, 1991: Associated Press, 15
d In an 8 Aug. 1995 speech to the US Taxpayers Alliance, Terry
said his message for anyone performing an abortion was, "When I, or people
like me, are running the country, you'd better flee, because we will find you,
we will try you, and we'll execute you": Freedom Writer (Boston: Institute
for First Amendment Studies), Sept. 1995. Murder quotation: Randall A. Terry,
"Higher Laws," Rutherford Institute Magazine, Mar.-June, 1987.
e John Paul II, Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life),
encyclical, 30 Mar. 1995, sections 72-73, emphasis in original.
New Movements and the
new ecclesial movements have nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) accredit ed
to the European Union and the United Nations. Focolare and Communion and
Liberation, `particularly, are heavily involved in international `development.
The European Union has funded Focolare's NGO, Action for a United World (AMU),
and the Communion and Liberation NGO, International Service Volunteers'
Association (AVSI). Neocatechumenate - which disparages social justice work as
"fashionable" and advocates "a totally different approach"
centering on evangelisationa - -attended the NGO Forum at the
UN Conference on women. Mary Ann Glendon, the head of the Vatican delegation to
the Beijing conference, later singled them out for praise as a "`particularly
impressive group... - intelligent, dedicated lay missionaries who work among
the neediest populations.'b
A number of these Vatican-allied organisations are
accredited as consultants to the Economic and Social Council of the United
Nations (ECOSOC), which coordinates the economic and social work of all UN
agencies." Most hold the second of three possible levels of accreditation;
that is, the UN recognise them as possessing "special competence in
specific areas," but not all areas. These "Grade II" groups
Include New Humanity, a front organisation of the Focolare Movement that
originally bore the even more secular-sounding name of International
Bureau of Economy. A Grade II NGO not explicitly linked to any of the new
movements, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, appointed Focolare
founder Chiara Lubich as its honorary President for Life in 1993. ` -
Vatican-allied NGOs with the lowest accreditation
level - "roster' status - include Human Life International, Foundation for
the Rights of the Family, Institut de Ia Vie, and the International Right to
a Quoting Neocatechumenate founder Kiko Arguello: Gordon
Urquhart, The Pope's Armada (London: Bantam Press, 1995), p. 275-76. `
b Mary Ann Glendon, "What Happened at Beijing," First
Things 59 (Jan. 1996), pp. 30-36.
c Basic Facts about the United Nations, UN Department of Public
information, New York, 1995, p. 12.