Vatican 'undermining EU support for women's rights'

Posted: 2 October 2003

The Vatican and its conservative Catholic allies are promoting a well funded campaign to undermine the European Union's support of sexual and reproductive health and rights, according to a new report by the pressure group, Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC).

Some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have come out strongly in supportof the report, entitled Preserving Power and Privilege: The Vatican's Agenda in the European Union.

Proinsias De Rossa, MEP for Ireland, said "I would recommend that all MEPs read this timely report. We do need to know the provenance of proposals to change our laws and policies as they sometimes come from a rather narrow interpretation of a particular religious viewpoint."

At the Intergovernmental Conference launched in Rome this week, many issues in the EU Constitutional Treaty will be debated,including reference to the Christian roots of Europe. The Vatican will be a key player, advancing its long-term strategy that is laid out in the CFFC report.

"The information contained in this report is critical to an understanding of the profound differences in worldview and values that divide most of Europe from conservative Roman Catholic thought," says Frances Kissling, president of CFFC.

"If the Vatican succeeds in its goal to gain special status within the EU to affect its policies and funding, millions of people could face discrimination and be denied their human rights. What is at stake is no less than the lives and well-being of the world's women - which for the present are very much in the hands of the European people."

Vatican power

MEPs supporting the CFFC report include, Joaquim Antonio Miranda da Silva, MEP for Portugal and Chair of the Development Committee of the Parliament. "I share the concerns expressed in this courageous report which speaks about issues at the core of the current debate [on the Constitution],in particular the relationship between the EU and the Vatican," she said.

Written for European policy makers and for all citizens concerned about human rights, the report provides facts and analysis of the Catholic church's efforts to influence public policy and secure and extend its power at the EU. The report details what the Vatican wants included in the Constitutional Treaty, including:

  • An exemption to discriminate on the grounds of religion or sexual orientation. This would grant a church the right to organize and administer its charities and workplace for hundreds of thousands of European citizens according to its own rules.

    The Vatican got its desired language on this right annexed to the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam - the first mention of the church in a European legislative document - to allow all churches to be exempted from the treaty's prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion or sexual orientation.

  • A special consultative status not held by any other nongovernmental entity. This would provide for the Catholic church to be consulted in the pre-drafting stage of legislation on a wide range of matters where the church feels it has expertise and for regular consultations at the highest level of the various EU institutions - a constitutionally granted voice in state affairs.

  • The mention of God and of Europe's Christian roots in the Constitution. A doctrinal note to Catholic policy makers released in January 2003 by Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope's guardian of the orthodoxy of Catholic faith, declared that the separation of religion and politics did not mean a separation of morals and politics. It asserted that the Catholic church has the divine, ultimate and legitimate authority to define the truth on morality and what is right in politics and exhorted Catholics to defend the church's positions without compromise, in particular on issues related to the family and to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The report details the Vatican's opposition to the EU's efforts to recognize the right to plan family size, choose homosexual or other non-married partnerships, seek abortion, or form non-traditional families.

It says that the pope seeks to restore policies that limit access to abortion and family planning and discourage and discriminate against non-traditional unions and families. Not only offical polichy is at atake, it says, but also budgetallocations.

Funding record

  • In 2002, the European Parliament was reauthorising "aid for policies and actions on sexual and reproductive health and rights in developing countries." But, says CFFC, the proposed 20m.euros for 2003-2006 was slashed to 6m. when 160 MEPs voted against the measure, signalling that the European Parliament's consensus on sexual and reproductive rights might be over and that the Vatican's lobbying was having an impact.

  • While the Vatican rejects EU policy, Catholic charities receive a substantial amount of EU money, the report says. Between 1997 and 2002, Catholic charities received nearly 99m. euros under the budget line that goes to fund NGO development projects - close to 10m per cent of the total one1 billion euros that the EU spent on such projects.

Belgian MEP Anne Van Lancker, whose report on family planning, contraception, education, abortion, and pregnancy, was adopted in 2002 by a vote of 280-240 with 28 abstentions, despite Vatican opposition,welcomed the CFFC report.

"Europe has always been a firm defender of sexual and reproductive health and rights. With the adoption of my report, the European Parliament reaffirmed the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) consensus that women should be able to choose whether they want children, when they want them, and how many they want and to experience their sexuality in a healthy way," she said.

"But recently, Europe's progressive consensus has come increasingly under attack by Vatican lobbying. In the light of the 10-year review of ICPD" Van Lancker stressed, "Europe should join forces to ensure women's sexual and reproductive rights."

For more information, visit CFFC.