Vatican Blasts United Nations for ‘Attack on Freedom of Religion’

Pope Francis arrives for a visit to the United Nations World Food Program headquarters in Rome, Monday, June 13, 2016. (Credit: Tony Gentile/ Pool Photo vi AP.)
Tony Gentile/ Pool Photo via AP

The Vatican’s delegate to the United Nations issued a strongly worded reproach to a U.N. report proposing that religious freedom must “surrender” to gender and reproductive rights.

Speaking in Geneva at the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council, the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, stated that a last-minute report presented by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief actually constituted “an attack on freedom of religion or belief as well as freedom of conscience.”

Rather than defend freedom of religion as his job title would suggest, U.N. official Ahmed Shaheed uses his post to undermine religious liberty, making it a second-class right, the archbishop suggested.

“Particularly unacceptable and offensive are the numerous references that recommend that freedom of religion or belief and conscientious objection must be surrendered for the promotion of other so-called ‘human rights,’ which certainly do not enjoy consensus, thus being a sort of ‘ideological colonization’ on the part of some States and international institutions,” the archbishop declared.

In his report, Shaheed argued that gender-based discrimination “is being perpetuated both in the public sphere and by and within religious communities and entities.”

LGBT+ persons have experienced “gender-specific” discrimination that “impedes their ability to fully enjoy their human rights,” Shaheed declared, “by State and non-state actors relying on religious ‘justifications’ for their actions.”

Shaheed further lamented that “many governments maintain legal provisions that discriminate against LGBT+ persons, including in healthcare, housing, social security, employment, marriage and parental rights, often on religious grounds.”

The Special Rapporteur also stated:

Discriminatory religious edicts inform laws and policies that restrict sexual and reproductive rights in the region, including, but not limited to, partial or total bans on access to abortion and contraception, prohibitions on assisted reproductive technologies and gender reassignment surgery, and limits on the provision of evidence-based sexuality education.

Shaheed explicitly condemned the appeal to conscientious objection to avoid having to perform abortions.

“One area of particular concern regarding accommodations to national law for religious beliefs is the use of conscientious objection by healthcare providers and institutions unwilling to perform abortions or provide access to contraception on religious grounds,” he stated.

Shaheed said that the Human Rights Committee “has called on States to ensure that women have access to legal abortion notwithstanding conscientious objection by medical practitioners, which it has referred to as a ‘barrier’ to access.”

In his response to the report, Archbishop Jurkovič noted that the Holy See “has always understood ‘gender’ and related terms according to the ordinary, generally accepted usage of the word ‘gender,’ based on the biological identity that is male and female.”

“My Delegation cannot but lament that the Report seems to focus less on the protection of men and women, of any faith or personal belief, that are persecuted or discriminated against (a still too vivid reality for millions of persons worldwide), and more on pushing a vision of human society that is not shared by all and does not reflect the social, cultural and religious reality of many peoples,” the archbishop stated.

The growing influence within the international Organizations of powers and interest groups that impose their own visions and ideas, is sparking “new forms of ideological colonization,” Jurkovič said, “often in disregard for the identity, dignity and sensitivities of peoples.”

In concluding, the archbishop said that Mr. Shaheed’s report, far from being an anomaly, actually represents an unfortunate pattern.

“It is rather unfortunate, yet increasingly less surprising given its frequency, that a UN Report, which should defend the fundamental and universal human right of freedom of religion or belief as well as the right to conscientious objection, is now attacking the very reality it is called to defend,” he said.

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