Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > impact on women / resistance > The Catholic Church at the UN: Church or State?

The Catholic Church at the UN: Church or State?

Monday 1 April 2013, by siawi3

This updated report by Catholics for Choice examines the Vatican’s questionable denomination as a state, the history of its acceptance into the UN, and the ongoing efforts of the Holy See to impose its views on all the globe, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This is particularly salient at a time when the Vatican is also seeking to insert itself into various regional governance bodies.

Catholics For Choice: “The Catholic Church At The United Nations: Church Or State?”

Source: Catholics for Choice, 06/03/2013

“The Catholic Church at the United Nations: Church or State?” provides an in-depth examination of the Holy See’s questionable denomination as a state; the curious history of its acceptance into the UN; and the ongoing campaign by the Holy See to use its status at the UN to impose its minority views on the global population, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Drawing on decades of experience, Catholics for Choice offers a concise account of the facts behind the Holy See’s privileged position at the UN as well as its history of undermining consensus and inserting its ultraconservative agenda into global policy documents.

The Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic church, enjoys a status at the United Nations unlike that of any other religion: Nonmember State Permanent Observer. This means that the Holy See is able to participate with some of the privileges of a state at UN conferences, including the right to vote. Because these conferences operate by consensus, the ability of a Nonmember State Permanent Observer to oppose the majority carries significant power. Ever since it was informally accepted at the United Nations in 1964, questions have been raised about the Holy See’s status and role at the UN. Over the years, as the UN became more influential in international policymaking and the Holy See stepped up its opposition to reproductive health and rights, the questions have become more pertinent and pointed.

Is there a legitimate basis for the Holy See to be regarded as a state?

The Holy See claims that its possession of a territorial entity—Vatican City—qualifies it as a state. Yet, according to the criteria established by international treaty, Vatican City may not be considered a state. The Holy See and the Roman Catholic church both fail the same test and neither can be considered a state.

So why does the Holy See enjoy privileges otherwise reserved for states?

The Holy See acquired its status at the UN through a process of custom, rather than consensus. In fact, the Holy See owes its status at the UN to the early membership of Vatican City in the Universal Postal Union and the International Telecommunication Union. Today, in stark contrast to other religions, which participate like most other nonstate entities—as nongovernmental organizations—the leadership of the Catholic church enjoys unparalleled access and influence at the UN.

How does the Holy See use its privileged position to limit sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)?

Official documents from the major UN conferences on women, population and development in the past 20 years are replete with objections by the Holy See to the majority consensus, which generally favored the expansion and strengthening of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. The Holy See has opposed the use of terms previously accepted by consensus, such as “gender” and the expansion of human rights to include topics that contradict ultraorthodox interpretations of Catholicism, such as SRHR and gay rights. As a Nonmember State Permanent Observer, the Holy See is able to place items on the provisional agenda of the General Assembly, and it enjoys greater access to the plenary sessions of the UN and its main committees, as well as to the Security Council.

To access the publication, please download the following pdf file
Catholic Church at the UN— Church or State.pdf 247.66 kB