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Catholic Herald View: Let’s hope Francis can help the UN get back on course

United Nations bureaucracy tends to regard religious traditions as an obstacle to the international enforcement of human rights

By on Thursday, 8 May 2014

Cartoon by Christian Adams

Cartoon by Christian Adams

The United Nations is a strange beast: many of its 193 member states have a religiously conservative character, but its bureaucracy tends to regard religious traditions as a regrettable obstacle to the international enforcement of human rights. It’s little wonder that UN bureaucrats tend to embrace an extreme philosophy of moral autonomy when they are constantly surrounded by a well-funded army of bodies seeking to swing the UN brand behind their radical agendas. The Holy See does not sit easily within this framework. It is not, of course, a UN member state, but rather a permanent observer. It is in this capacity that it has signed various UN treaties, which are now being used to wage a public relations war against the Holy See and even, in some instances, the Catholic faith itself.

Last February the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child savaged the Holy See’s handling of clerical abuse. Some of its criticism was, of course, valid. But rather than suggesting effective means of combating the abuse, the committee instead urged the Church to promote abortion and even offered advice on how it should interpret Scripture related to corporal punishment. As Archbishop Silvano Tomasi put it, it was “almost as if they wanted to teach theology to the Vatican”.

On Monday, what was billed as round two of the battle between the Vatican and the UN system began, when the Holy See’s representative appeared before the UN Committee on the Convention against Torture. That committee is charged with opposing the degradation of prisoners around the world. But its members, too, seem to have succumbed to creeping ideological bias in recent years, railing against member states that restrict abortion. This time the Holy See not only anticipated the tendentious line of questioning, but also prepared well for it, mounting a small media offensive and circulating a briefing that responded crisply to the committee’s likely accusations.

We will see how effective this strategy has been when the committee releases its report on May 23, shortly before Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land.

Where does all this leave relations between the UN and the Holy See? On the face it, in a mess. But the UN is such a complex body that, while some of its committees wage ideological warfare against the Holy See, Francis himself seems to be building a strong relationship with the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. Indeed, the Pope will deliver a major address to the heads of UN agencies this very Saturday. While Francis is unlikely to address recent tensions directly, he may urge the

UN to dedicate itself to its founding mission, which it has often strayed from since the Declaration on Human Rights was promulgated in 1948. There is little doubt that, in an age in which the most grotesque human rights abuses are reported daily, we need some kind of international forum that promotes the authentic dignity of every human being. Let’s hope that Francis is able
to persuade the UN to be that institution.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Catholic Herald (9/5/14)


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  • Andrew Milhurst

    The Pope is obliged not only to be a good Christian, but also a diplomatic leader. There is nothing preventing the Catholic press from printing that which is generally uncontentious: the human rights abuses which are prevalent in the home countries of UN representatives which often far outweigh any allegations against the Catholic Church and which provides enough evidence to bring a charge of gross hypocrisy against them.

  • la catholic state

    Though the UN is made up of religious conservatives in the main……it is fundamentally an anti-Christian organisation, an alternative Vatican. And anyone who sets themselves up as an alternative to Jesus Christ….is setting themselves against Him. If you sup with the devil…..use a long spoon. Honey coated diplomacy might mask for a time the true humanistic, nature of the UN agenda which will brook no opposition from the Vatican.

    The Vatican would do better to seek an alliance of pro-Christian nations and leaders…..and then deal diplomatically with non-Christian ones. There is life outside of the UN.

  • Paul

    Google (Agenda 21) and population control….NWO

  • Hennergogs

    Indeed! And we should question why this body is devoting so much time and money pursuing this agenda rather than issues such as the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Africa or the blatant abuses of human rights and persecution of Christians in so many countries around the world.

  • Muppet Fodder

    I pray Pope Francis will play a blinder and kick these UN prawn-sandwich munchers into touch.

  • Atilla The Possum


  • lewispbuckingham

    Since the Catholic Church is across many nations, including those not at peace with each other, it is a natural vehicle for espousing and assisting the UN in reaching its purpose in Chapter 1 ,Article 1, Para 3; of the Charter of the United Nations.

    ‘To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion;and
    4 To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.’

  • la catholic state

    But the Church exists to spread the Gospel. That is Christ’s first command. ‘Go forth and teach all nations and baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’

  • lewispbuckingham

    ‘But the Church exists to spread the Gospel.’
    So it must bring ‘the kingdom’ as in Thy kingdom come.
    This involves seeing the good in all institutions and people and having the strength to cooperate with them to bring about the kingdom.
    Being in harmony with nations and not in conflict with UN bureaucracy and
    self appointed judges is a way foreward.
    Particularly as it may be emphasised that freedom of religion is not the same thing as freedom from religion and that the charter of the UN guarantees freedom of religion.

  • Acleron

    Various people in the UN disagree with the Vatican and that becomes ideological? Oh please, get over yourselves. As for any antireligious bias, we have had a narrow escape at the UN when several religious countries tried to get agreement for anti-blasphemy regulations.

  • la catholic state

    The Church should be about its primary role and must act in the name of Jesus Christ…..if this is not acceptable to other parties…..then the Church should cease co-operating with them.

    There are plenty of Catholics worldwide that need to be mobilised in the name of Christ…..working with the UN is not our priority but spreading the Gospel is.

  • Hennergogs

    I didn’t hear about this. When you say a narrow escape what actually happened? Was there actually a vote or some kind of statement from a committee or something? I’m just being curious.because these laws have been used in some countries to imprison Christians and impose the death penalty.

  • James M

    “United Nations bureaucracy tends to regard religious traditions as an obstacle to the international enforcement of human rights”

    ## Maybe the UN is on to something. If the Vatican is so Christian, why is it so morbidly sensitive to criticism ? It was not exactly championing the rights of minors to be defended against molestation by priests & religious – if the Vatican abandons minors to such cruelties, does it follow that the UN has a duty to be equally callous ? When the Vatican is found wanting, it’s just as well that a non-religious authority can be found that is willing to do something about such crimes. If the Vatican were not so callously indifferent, and were a lot more Christian, no other authorities would be needed. Whatever the faults of the UN, it deserves a lot of credit for telling the Vatican some uncomfortable home truths. Why should the Vatican be spared them, when no-one else is ? It needs to be criticised, for its own sake, and that of everyone else. And that is just one sickly religious authority that causes trouble.

  • lewispbuckingham

    ‘then the Church should cease co-operating with them.’

    The barque of Peter will always sail on rough seas.
    To mix metaphors the problem may be simplified by asking the question posed by the prophets viz

    ‘How shall we sing the songs of God in a strange land?’

    The UN is not a monolithic organisation, it is made up of people who change all the time.
    Those people, whatever they may believe think or act about the CC, are made in the image of Christ and ,in your terms ‘need to be mobilised in the name of Christ’.

    The UN, in its people, is a greenfield for conversion to ‘the way, the truth, and the life’.

    Just because some use the sins of priests to flog the Church, and avoid condemning institutional violence in member countries does not mean they are beyond the love of Christ, or that good will not result in the attacks and argument.

    I am sure the CC will survive the UN and its successors.

    It always has.

  • John Fisher

    The Church needs to go on the offensive. The UN does nothing to stop wars through direct military intervention. The security council allows the power of the veto rather than majority vote. Abortion is murder and the UN pushes it through. The problem with the UN is exactly what is its ideology? The Church should be critiqued by its own moral framework. The Church has a 2000 year old history and continuity. I belong to the Church 1st, family 2nd and my country 3rd. If UN officials are just secularist materialists then they need removing.

  • la catholic state

    Sure. But don’t get distracted from the main duty of spreading the Gospel by the inferior task of reforming the UN. The UN isn’t everybody…..and it is not as powerful as ordinary Catholics worldwide on fire with the Holy Spirit.

    Also…..the UN has its own anti-Christian agenda. The Church must not be blind to this or bound to this (nice try UN). Innocent as a dove…..shrewd as a serpent. The UN is shrewd and wise to its own agenda…..the Church sometimes not so.

  • MarcAlcan

    Wrong. The Kingdom of God is not of this world.
    The Kingdom of God is in our hearts. When God begins to reign in all our hearts, then that is when the Kingdom of God has come.
    But we cannot talk about the Kingdom of God without addressing sin. The stupid thing is, everyone is talking about eradicating poverty, righting injustice but no one ever talks about the cause of poverty or the cause of injustice which is sin.

  • Guest

    Consider cases. The wartime dilemma of the soon to be canonised Venerable Pius XII (without whom the Second Vatican Council would been bereft of foundation, and denied much of its actual structure (obscured as this was purposely formed by the Council Fathers). After all, the prudent – and, as it proved, the providential – ‘silence’ of Papa Pacelli on the real horrors of the Nazi threat to international peace, order and security seem still to perplex minds as they did the ‘all-for-action’ mouthpieces of past times .. and indeed of that time itself.

    ‘It has been a year since that audience with Pius XII and Mgr. Roncalli, his biographer writes, “is also aware that the current tragedy is worth tougher reactions, from the Holy See as well. And yet, after reading a coded message from the Vatican dated 19 October 1942 which troubles him, he writes in his diary: “Oh how the Holy See suffers! Often all that can be heard is sobbing in the face of the injustices suffered. We could scream louder. But this would only bring more trouble”’ Marco Roncalli, biographer of Pope St John XXIII, reviewed at Vatican Insider.

    We could scream louder – of course – but this would only bring more trouble. Moreover to whom will such shrieking of anger, sorrow and dismay offer any actual succour – would it not have led to nothing, in fact, would it not have worsened an already tragic situation? This extreme case is not that of a type only of parable; how we should act with right judgement presented with these horrors in our midst – the mass slaughter of innocents, a willing co-operation in self-slaughter, sterilisation of generations, etc, etc – did the angry responses stop this in Nazidom .. shall they stop it in our own Liberationdom .. or merely make some feel so much better for having raged in public while intensifying the efforts at destruction!

    Since horrific statistics seem to dominate international co-operation, a perusal of the data in the genocide carried out against our elder brethren the Jews under the Nazi regime speaks more loudly than any outspoken attack by the Church .. in reality it shows the terrifying reality of such self-satisfying, public defiance.

    The Christian pastors in Holland and at Athens railed against the (then still generally unfathomed) Nazi arrests of the Jews, 75% to 77% of their Jews were slaughtered. In Italy and in (much maligned) France 74% to 80% survived, if deeply traumatised, though the Church there is now blasted for not saying enough publicly to avert the slaughter. One must wonder then which course saved the mortal lives of so many souls, our brethren in Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph and the apostles; now, perhaps, we may ponder how we shall save the innocent lives of the unborn, the souls of those contemplating self-slaughter at a doctor’s or nurse’s hands .. etc, etc …

    Papa Pacelli, Santo Subito!

    God Bless Our Pope! Lord, help us all!

    St Michael defend us in the day of battle!

  • Conrad J. Noll

    It sounds as if some Catholics here feel that they are in a war of some kind with secular values. That is not a happy thought. Thoughts like that often result in the physical manifestation of the attitude. If you constantly feel like you are in a war, you will get a war eventually.

  • Conrad J. Noll

    I suggest you and others here read David Kertzer’s book ‘The Pope and Mussolini’ before you get all ‘Santo Subito’ about Eugenio Pacelli.

    I have a name for you. You should become familiar with this man and his role in the implementation of the Racial Laws against Jews in pre-war Italy… Fr. Pietro Tacchi Venturi SJ. A name that should become more familiar to you all.

  • Joseph

    The UN committees do seem to be guilty of ideological divagations and to be mixing chalk and cheese is a very sloppy way, which can only damage each of the causes it blends together as if there were only one true ideology — an all-purpose monochrome political correctness — on the one hand — and one false ideology, Roman Catholicism, on the other.

  • Joseph

    The answer seems to be that they have an ideological bee in their bonnet.

  • Dorset Rambler

    But what do you mean by “secular values”?

  • Conrad J. Noll

    Values not dependent on religious reasoning.

  • Dorset Rambler

    Sorry to be so slow. But what is “religious reasoning”?

    That statement seems to imply that you are unaware of the Church reasoning from it calls the natural law; and indeed of its very rich philosophical and intellectual tradition.

    I observe that the UN is not immune from criticism in its recent failures to protect the weak and innocent.

  • Conrad J. Noll

    No so, I am Catholic born, raised and educated, familiar with catholic history, philosophical and intellectual tradition.

    Catholic philosophy, particularly ‘natural law’ and any other religiously informed philosophy that exists to confirm questionable cultural bias is not something I see as a reliable source of values for the broader community.

  • Dorset Rambler

    So what is a “reliable source of values for the broader community”? I confess I’m struggling to understand your position.

  • Conrad J. Noll

    No, you are deliberately being obtuse… This exchange has ended.

  • Dorset Rambler

    Conrad, I’m sorry that you think that. I saw that you write from Canada with many US references. I was trying to establish whether or not we are indeed speaking a common language.

    The “broader community” of England & Wales and Canada/US are very different places with different cultural references.

  • Conrad J. Noll

    I’m British. Born in London. Grew up in England.