A guide to the Vatican, Catholic Church and overpopulation, population policy, family planning, national security.

 population, growth control, national security, global security
 rockefeller commission, commission on population growth and the american future, population policy, united states population policy, political will, papal infallibility, roman catholic bishops

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.’"



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 Press, 1995).


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 society.


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.

In regard 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.

While the 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.

Yet the 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 every country.


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

The 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.

The 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 worldwide.


"Highly organised secular humanists in the UN and European governments," explained a Vatican official, are "the enemy."


Among 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.

Also 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 world.

Other 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 and mores."5

Another 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 movements.

The 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 candidates.

* 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.


In his 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.

Always, 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.

Public relations 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.

Navarro-Valls's 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.

The 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.

Like most 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 organisations.12

Although 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.

While the 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), p. 266.


The Laity

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 ambassadors.

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 Clinton.

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.

The 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

The. 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.'"

In' the 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 governments."


The European Union "Is Investing millions to prevent you [women] from being women, castrating you, and humiliating you."

            European Parliamentarian Roberto Mezzaroma


Setting 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.

The 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 other prelate.



"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      



Like 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

In 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.

The 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.

To 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 political leaders.


Partners in Parliament

The Pontifical 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 Manifesto"


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.

One of 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 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 Manifesto"

In March 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 incentive programmes.28

When the 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.

Casini 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.

Another 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.

In the 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



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.

The 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.

An 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.

The same 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.



Allowing homosexual unions, the pope says, will legitimise "moral disorder" and "damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among people."


Defence-of-the-Family and Antiabortion Movements

Antiabortion 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

The 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

Politically,, 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 active presence.35



Reinforcing the political theme was MEP Carlo Casini, who spoke on "the right to life as a political problem.36

"Life," 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 social science:


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 home.39


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 eliminating coercion:


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 Family.

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 political influence.

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, one.

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 examples.

`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 Directory 1997.

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. 1996).

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 16,1997,

13  "Opus Dei: The Pope's Right Arm in Europe" (note 8).

14  Recommendations 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.

15  Ibid.

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.

21  Not-for-attribution 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.

25  "Christine 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).

38  Ibid.

39  Recommendations 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), p. 48.

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, 1997).



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 the Move.



Marysa Navarro-Aranguren, Ph.D., chairperson

Sheila Briggs, M.A.

Silvia Cancio, M.A.

Giles Milhaven, S.T.D.

Eileen Moran, Ph.D.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, Ph.D.

Peter Wilderotter, B.A.

Susan Wysocki, R.N.C., B.S.N., N.P.



Frances Kissling          


"The Vatican and Family Politics" is the second report in the series Conservative

Catholic Influence in Europe. The first report was "Opus Del: The Pope's Right Arm in Europe."


Researched and written by Gordon Urquhart.   

c 1997 by Catholics for a Free Choice. All Rights Reserved. Published 1997.

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Maintaining Traditional Families - Fighting Homosexual Unions

Maintaining 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 "deviant behaviour.”b

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 family."'

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 cause.

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 homes.

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.

d Ibid.

e Ibid.

f  Controrivoluzione No.37.

g Ibid.

h Pope John Paul II, "Letter to Families," 2 Feb. 1994, section 7.

i  Ibid., section 17.

j Gino Concetti, editorial, L `Osservatore Romano, 8 May, 1996.


Partners in Civil Disobedience

The Third 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 forming abortions."

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 objection."'



a Familia et Vita, March1996, p. 16.

b Sept. 1996 not-for-attribution briefing with the author.

c The meeting was Nov. 14-16, 1991: Associated Press, 15 Nov. 1991.

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 International Institutions.

All 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 Life Federation.


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.

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