Catholic activist seeks repeal of Vatican UN privilege

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April 5, 2001

Catholics for Free Choice activist David Nolan spoke to students Tuesday on the issues of the Catholic church’s stance on abortion and the Vatican’s privileged status at the United Nations.

Nolan said Catholics for a Free Choice was created in 1973, shortly after abortion was made a major issue with Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, in order to provide a voice for Catholics who disagree with the church’s policy of condemning abortion. Though the Vatican currently forbids abortion in all circumstances, Nolan believes it is possible to be Catholic and believe in a woman’s right to choose.

“Only in recent history has the church stood against abortion in all circumstances,” Nolan said. He explained there are several principles in Church teaching that may allow for abortion, including the Privacy of Conscience and the Principle of Reception.

Nolan said the Privacy of Conscience allows for someone to make a decision based on personal reflection. This could apply to abortion, said Nolan, “If one can prayerfully come up with a decision on abortion.”

Nolan also cited the Principle of Reception, which he said allows digression from certain teachings when a significant dissent exists.

“There are literally hundreds of theologians who disagree with the church teaching on this issue,” Nolan said.

Nolan said that members of the organization have challenged other church policies as well, baptizing those who were refused by the church and advocating the ordination of women.

Nolan said he does not see his organization as a group of rebels, “We see ourselves as the authentic voice of Catholicism,” said Nolan.

Catholics for a Free Choice has started a campaign, known as the “See Change” campaign, to have the Vatican’s special status at the United Nations removed, Nolan said. The government of the Vatican, the Holy See, enjoys special status as a permanent observer to the United Nations, a status granted only to actual countries.

Nolan said as a result, the Holy See gets speaking privileges and the right to vote at many important conferences, using this status to obstruct funding for international Planned Parenthood and contraceptive distribution programs.

According to the See Change website, the Holy See uses its status to block funding for contraceptives, safe abortions and family planning to countries that suffer from 600,000 deaths each year from childbirth and failed abortions, as well as countries that experience 2.5 million deaths each year from AIDS.

Nolan said the Holy See does not deserve this status, as they are not representing the people of a distinct nation but a particular religious government. The See Change campaign seeks to have the United Nations stop recognizing the Holy See as an actual nation, arguing that the Vatican does not possess the characteristics needed. “The Vatican grants citizenship by dint of job,” said Nolan, “It is not a real country.”

Because of the Vatican’s position, Nolan sees an inequality between religions at the United Nations. “It is inappropriate for a religion which is not accountable, to be above other religions,” Nolan said. “[The Catholic church] has a status way above and beyond every other religion.”

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