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Multilateral foreign policy of the Holy See

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The multilateral foreign policy of the Holy See is particularly active on some issues, such as human rights, disarmament, and economic and social development, which are dealt with in international fora.

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Right to life

Both at the United Nations and at the various international conferences, the Holy See has promoted the "Culture of life", opposing efforts to legalize or endorse abortion and euthanasia through internationally legally binding instruments or non-binding declarations, advocating for the abolition of death penalty at the global level, and seeking to ban research on human embryos. At the United Nations General Assembly, the Holy See stated that:

The right to life and respect for human dignity remains an inalienable right of every person and a founding principle of this Organization. It is therefore the duty of States to promote and protect this right from conception until natural death. To that end, we must work consistently to reverse the culture of death embraced by some social and legal structures which justify certain forms of destruction of life as a legal necessity or a medical service.[1]

Human cloning

At the international level, the Holy See has underlined the ethical problems raised by some current forms of biomedical research.[2] The Holy See has been particularly active in the area of human cloning. In 2001, when Germany and France proposed at the United Nations General Assembly the adoption of an international convention to ban reproductive human cloning, the Holy See, together with a coalition of like-minded states that included Spain, Philippines, the United States, and Costa Rica, noted that such a convention would implicitly legitimize the cloning of human beings for research purposes,[3] which is more serious from an ethical point of view than the reproductive one,[4] and proposed banning all forms of human cloning.[5] The Holy See objected to the "production of millions of human embryos with the intention of destroying them as part of the process of using them for scientific research" and to the instrumentalization and victimization of women, specially of the poorest women, in the process of harvesting the necessary human eggs.[6] These efforts lead to the successful adoption, in March 2005, of a United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning, which calls upon all member states of the UN "to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life".

Death penalty

In 2007, the Holy See argued at the United Nations that the death penalty should be used exceptionally, only when its use is necessary to protect society against an aggressor, a situation which is "practically non-existent" today, since societies have other ways of protecting their citizens. In addition, it noted that capital punishment is frequently discriminatory, since it is imposed most often on the poorest and on members of religious, ethnic and racial minorities; and that it is irreversible, since it excludes all possibilities of recourse and restoration in the event of a miscarriage of justice.[7] Consequently, the Holy See worked for the adoption of a UN moratorium on the death penalty.[8]

Freedom of conscience and religion

Following Vatican Council II,[9] the Holy See has uphold, at the international level, the centrality of the freedom of conscience and religion among all Human Rights[10] since, in its view, those freedoms impinge on essence of the Human person.[11] Pope Benedict XVI noted that "religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family."[12] Thus, the respect for freedom of religion is at the basis of the respect for all other human rights.[13] Consequently, the Holy See has called upon States to comply with their international commitments to respect those rights. It has stated:

Recognition of the dignity of each and every person, which the Human Rights Council was formed to protect and promote, entails full respect for the inner and transcendent dimension of the human person, which is an integral part of what it means to be a human being. Through the free exercise of conscience and moral decision making, human beings are able to transform themselves into living members of social life whose good will, charity and hope promote the dignity and wellbeing of every member of the human family. Intrinsically linked to freedom of conscience is the freedom of religion by which human beings are able to pursue the most important relationship of their life, that is, their relationship with God. Freedom of religion necessarily entails the freedom to ascribe to a set of beliefs, to adopt or change one’s religion, to profess one’s faith and to practice fully that faith openly and publicly. Governments have a solemn responsibility to safeguard rather than ridicule this inalienable right. Since the State is not the author of any fundamental human right, it must respect that intimate and fundamental sanctuary of human freedom, the conscience, and to allow each conscience its fullest and highest expression in the free exercise of religious faith.[14]

In parallel, the Holy See condemns the violation to the freedom of religion, specially when suffered by Christians:

It is painful to think that in some areas of the world it is impossible to profess one’s religion freely except at the risk of life and personal liberty. In other areas we see more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility towards believers and religious symbols. At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.[15]

In this context, the Holy See has stressed the duty of both governments and private individuals "to promote tolerance, mutual understanding and respect among the followers of the various faith traditions."[16] At the same time, the Holy See has condemned religious fanaticism and violence as a prevention of the freedom of religion,[17] as well as "every form of hostility to religion that would restrict the public role of believers in civil and political life."[18]

Sexual and reproductive rights

Faced with a coordinated effort to incorporate sexual and reproductive rights within the body of the  international recognized human rights, [19] the Holy See has become the major advocate at the international level of traditional sexual mores and marriage.

Traditional family

At the various international conferences, the Holy See argued that the traditional family, based on a stable and loving relationship between a man and a woman, is necessary for the responsible transmission and nurturing of new life. Consequently, society must recognize the traditional family's contribution to society's own good through appropriate cultural, fiscal and social policy. At the 1994 Cairo Conference, the Holy See argued that global population policy should ultimately be guided by the Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person so as to “foster the family based on marriage and must sustain parents, fathers and mothers, in their mutual and responsible decisions with regard to the procreation and education of children.” [20] Conversely, the Holy See has opposed “any attempts to weaken the family or to propose a radical redefining of its structure, such as assigning the status of family to other life-style forms.”[21]

Sexual orientation

In particular, the Holy See has opposed the use of the terms “Sexual orientation” and “Gender identity” in international human rights instruments, since, due to the fact that there is no agreed definition of those terms in international law, their use could favor of a redefinition of the family.[22] In its view, the term gender, whenever used, should be understood as male and female as grounded on the biological sexual identity.[23] On these bases, in 2008, the Holy See opposed the adoption of a proposed declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity by the United Nations General Assembly. At the same time, the Holy See has condemned all forms of violence against homosexual persons and has called for the elimination of criminal penalties against them.[24]

Responsible sexual behavior

The Holy See condemned irresponsible sexual behavior, which, in its view, victimizes mostly women and children, and which is fostered by today's “attitudes of sexual permissiveness, which focus above all on personal pleasure and gratification.” [25] It has further argued that traditional sexual mores are the best way to prevent Sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS. As Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, “health minister“ of the Holy See stated at a UN special session on AIDS:

Regarding the sexual transmission of the disease, the best and most effective prevention is training in the authentic values of life, love and sexuality. A proper appreciation of these values will inform today's men and women about how to attain full personal fulfillment through affective maturity and the proper use of sexuality, whereby couples remain faithful to each other and behave in a way that keeps them from becoming infected by HIV/AIDS. No one can deny that sexual license increases the danger of contracting the disease. It is in this context that the values of matrimonial fidelity and of chastity and abstinence can be better understood.[26]

In the same vein, during his 2009 trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI argued that the spread of AIDS “cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering."[27]

Family planning

The Holy See underlined that responsible parenthood entails responsibility and demands discipline and self-restrain, [28] particularly in the area of sexual behavior. The Holy See opposed efforts to endorse Family planning methods which separate what, in its view, are the two essential dimensions of human sexuality: the transmission of life and the loving care of parents. At the Cairo Conference, the Holy See opposed the term family planning services which encompass sterilization, since it was often abused, especially when promoted among the poor or the illiterate.[29] At the conclusion of the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, the Holy See reiterated that use of the term widest range of family planning services should not be interpreted as endorsing family planning methods or services that it considers morally unacceptable, that do not respect the liberty of spouses, human dignity or the human rights of those concerned.In particular, it could not be understood as endorsing contraception or the use of Condoms, either as a family planning measure or in HIV/AIDS prevention.[30] In addition, the Holy See argued the education of children and adolescents, including in the area of sexual behavior, is primordially the responsibility of their parents, and not of the State; and it urged the international community to guarantee the parents the full exercise of this rights and to assist them to carry out their responsibilities.[31]

See also


  1. ^ Statements of the Holy See on draft resolution A/C.3/62/L.29 “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty”, 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, 15 Nov 2007
  2. ^ Benedict XVI, Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 7 Jan 2008:

    I cannot but deplore once again the continual attacks perpetrated on every continent against human life. I would like to recall, together with many men and women dedicated to research and science, that the new frontiers reached in bioethics do not require us to choose between science and morality: rather, they oblige us to a moral use of science.

  3. ^ Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, the Views of the Holy See on Human Embryonic Cloning, 17 Jul 2003  para. 2 Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine:

    The difference between "reproductive" cloning and "research" cloning (so-called "therapeutic" cloning) consists only in the objective of the procedure: in "reproductive" cloning one intends to develop a child by implanting the cloned embryo in a womb. In "research" cloning, one intends to use the cloned embryo in such a way that it is ultimately destroyed. To ban "reproductive" cloning only, without prohibiting "research" cloning, would be to allow the production of individual human lives with the intention of destroying these lives as part of the process of using them for scientific research. The early human embryo, not yet implanted into a womb, is nonetheless a human individual, with a human life, and evolving as an autonomous organism toward its full development into a human fetus Destroying this embryo is therefore a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate suppression of a innocent human being.

  4. ^ Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Dignitas Personae on certain bioethical questions, 8 Sep 2008, para 30:

    From the ethical point of view, so-called therapeutic cloning is even more serious. To create embryos with the intention of destroying them, even with the intention of helping the sick, is completely incompatible with human dignity, because it makes the existence of a human being at the embryonic stage nothing more than a means to be used and destroyed. It is gravely immoral to sacrifice a human life for therapeutic ends." (italics in the original)

  5. ^ See generally UNGA Ad Hoc Committee on an international convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings
  6. ^ Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, the Views of the Holy See on Human Embryonic Cloning, 17 Jul 2003, para.5 Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine. See also Statement of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See on Human Cloning, 30 Sep 2003 Archived 2008-05-17 at the Wayback Machine and Statement of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See on Human Cloning, 21 Oct 2004.
  7. ^ Statements of the Holy See on draft resolution A/C.3/62/L.29 “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty”, 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, 15 Nov 2007
  8. ^ At his Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See of 7 Jan 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said:

    I rejoice that on 18 December last the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling upon States to institute a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and I earnestly hope that this initiative will lead to public debate on the sacred character of human life.

  9. ^ Vatican Council II, Declaration of Religious Freedom 'Dignitatis Humanae', 7 December 1965, para. 2:

    This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

  10. ^ Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, 1 Jan 2011, para. 5: "It could be said that among the fundamental rights and freedoms rooted in the dignity of the person, religious freedom enjoys a special status. When religious freedom is acknowledged, the dignity of the human person is respected at its root, and the ethos and institutions of peoples are strengthened. On the other hand, whenever religious freedom is denied, and attempts are made to hinder people from professing their religion or faith and living accordingly, human dignity is offended, with a resulting threat to justice and peace, which are grounded in that right social order established in the light of Supreme Truth and Supreme Goodness."
  11. ^ Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, 1 Jan 2011, para. 2:

    The right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person, whose transcendent nature must not be ignored or overlooked. God created man and woman in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27). For this reason each person is endowed with the sacred right to a full life, also from a spiritual standpoint. Without the acknowledgement of his spiritual being, without openness to the transcendent, the human person withdraws within himself, fails to find answers to the heart’s deepest questions about life’s meaning, fails to appropriate lasting ethical values and principles, and fails even to experience authentic freedom and to build a just society.

  12. ^ Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, 1 Jan 2011, para. 1.
  13. ^ Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, 1 Jan 2011, para. 3:

    Religious freedom is at the origin of moral freedom. Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth. Freedom and respect are inseparable; indeed, “in exercising their rights, individuals and social groups are bound by the moral law to have regard for the rights of others, their own duties to others and the common good of all”(Vatican Council II, Declaration of Religious Freedom 'Dignitatis Humanae', 7 December 1965, para. 7.).

  14. ^ Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Statement on the Report of the Human Rights Council, New York, 3 November 2010.
  15. ^ Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, 1 Jan 2011, para. 1.
  16. ^ Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Statement on the Report of the Human Rights Council, New York, 3 November 2010.
  17. ^ Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, 1 Jan 2011, para. 7:

    The exploitation of religious freedom to disguise hidden interests, such as the subversion of the established order, the hoarding of resources or the grip on power of a single group, can cause enormous harm to societies. Fanaticism, fundamentalism and practices contrary to human dignity can never be justified, even less so in the name of religion. The profession of a religion cannot be exploited or imposed by force. States and the various human communities must never forget that religious freedom is the condition for the pursuit of truth, and truth does not impose itself by violence but “by the force of its own truth”

  18. ^ Benedict XVI, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace, 1 Jan 2011, para. 7:

    It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity. Both absolutize a reductive and partial vision of the human person, favouring in the one case forms of religious integralism and, in the other, of rationalism. A society that would violently impose or, on the contrary, reject religion is not only unjust to individuals and to God, but also to itself. God beckons humanity with a loving plan that, while engaging the whole person in his or her natural and spiritual dimensions, calls for a free and responsible answer which engages the whole heart and being, individual and communitarian. Society too, as an expression of the person and of all his or her constitutive dimensions, must live and organize itself in a way that favours openness to transcendence. Precisely for this reason, the laws and institutions of a society cannot be shaped in such a way as to ignore the religious dimension of its citizens or to prescind completely from it. Through the democratic activity of citizens conscious of their lofty calling, those laws and institutions must adequately reflect the authentic nature of the person and support its religious dimension. Since the latter is not a creation of the state, it cannot be manipulated by the state, but must rather be acknowledged and respected by it. Whenever the legal system at any level, national or international, allows or tolerates religious or antireligious fanaticism, it fails in its mission, which is to protect and promote justice and the rights of all.

  19. ^ On the coordinated effort see: Center for Reproductive Rights, International Legal Program,  Establishing International Reproductive Rights Norms: Theory for Change, US CONG. REC. 108th CONG. 1 Sess. E2534 E2547 (Rep. Smith) (Dec. 8, 2003):

    Our goal is to ensure that governments worldwide guarantee women's reproductive rights out of an understanding that they are bound to do so. The two principal prerequisites for achieving this goal are: (1) the strengthening of international legal norms protecting reproductive rights; and (2) consistent and effective action on the part of civil society and the international community to enforce these norms. Each of these conditions, in turn, depends upon profound social change at the local, national and international (including regional) levels. (...) Ultimately, we must persuade governments to accept reproductive rights as binding norms. Again, our approach can move forward on several fronts, with interventions both at the national and international levels. Governments' recognition of reproductive rights norms may be indicated by their support for progressive language in international conference documents or by their adoption and implementation of appropriate national-level legislative and policy instruments. In order to counter opposition to an expansion of recognized reproductive rights norms, we have questioned the credibility of such reactionary yet influential international actors as the United States and the Holy See. Our activities to garner support for international protections of reproductive rights include: Lobbying government delegations at UN conferences and producing supporting analyses/materials;

    See also: Amnesty International, Defenders of Sexual and Reproductive Rights Archived 2013-10-02 at the Wayback Machine; International Women’s Health Coalition and the United Nations, Campaign for an Inter-American Convention on Sexual and Reproductive Rights , Abortion as a human right: possible strategies in unexplored territory. (Sexual Rights and Reproductive Rights),  Women's Health Collection, (2003) and Shanthi Dairiam, Applying the CEDAW Convention for the recognition of women's health rights, Arrows For Change, (2002).

  20. ^ Holy See opening statement at the Cairo Conference, 7 Set 1994
  21. ^ Holy See opening statement at the Cairo Conference, 7 Set 1994 This position has been reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI, see, e.g. Benedict XVI, Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 8 Jan 2007:

    there are mounting threats to the natural composition of the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, and attempts to relativize it by giving it the same status as other radically different forms of union. All this offends and helps to destabilize the family by concealing its specific nature and its unique social role.

  22. ^ Declaration of the Holy See on the proposed United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 18 Dec 2008
  23. ^ Concluding statement of the Holy See at the Beijing Conference, 15 Set 1995
  24. ^ Declaration of the Holy See on the proposed United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 18 Dec 2008
  25. ^ Holy See opening statement at the Cairo Conference, 7 Set 1994
  26. ^ Statement of the Holy See at the XXVI Special Session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, 27 June 2001.
  27. ^ Benedict XVI, Interview during his fight to Africa, 17 March 2009
  28. ^ Holy See opening statement at the Cairo Conference, 7 Set 1994
  29. ^ Holy See opening statement at the Cairo Conference, 7 Set 1994
  30. ^ Concluding statement of the Holy See at the Beijing Conference, 15 Set 1995
  31. ^ Holy See opening statement at the Cairo Conference, 7 Set 1994
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