125+ Catholic Leaders Sign Letter to End Trump Administration’s “Natural Law” Commission

Mary Ann Glendon, right, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

More than 125 Catholic leaders have signed a letter expressing objections to the Trump administration’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights, one of several such protests from LGBTQ groups and other concerned activists.

The signers of the letter, identified as Catholic theologians, community leaders, and human rights advocates, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about their objections to both “the goals and composition” of the Commission, which is being led by the highly LGBTQ-negative Catholic Mary Ann Glendon. The signers explained:

“Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being. We staunchly support the fundamental human rights of all people and proudly carry on the long tradition in our country of advocating for expanding human rights around the world. It is our belief that this Commission will undermine these goals by promoting a vision of humanity that is conditional, limiting, and based on a very narrow religious perspective that is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of billions in this country and around the world.

“Of most urgent concern is that the composition of the Commission indicates that it will lead our State Department to adopt policies that will harm people who are already vulnerable, especially poor women, children, LGBTI people, immigrants, refugees, and those in need of reproductive health services. These policies will be embedded in everything from visa and immigration laws to international aid programs and will further undermine true human rights in the name of a very partial version of Christianity that is being promoted by the current Administration. We cannot allow this to happen in our names, and pledge our ongoing efforts to prevent this from being how our nation’s human rights stance is communicated to the rest of the world.”

The letter is the work of former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz, theologian Mary Hunt, DignityUSA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke, and theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale who had met during a forum on the state of the global LGBTQI Catholic movement earlier this month in Chicago. Massingale commented:

“‘It should be unthinkable that a U.S. Cabinet member would question a landmark principle in our nation’s founding document, the “Declaration of Independence.”  To undermine the conviction that all human beings, created in the image of God, possess inherent rights to life and liberty, is both disturbing as an American and offensive as a Christian.'”

Duddy-Burke explained that during the forum, there were chairs set apart for African delegates who could not procure visas in time. Such discrimination, she said, would only increase under the Commission. Diaz, who is now a professor at Loyola University Chicago, added:

“‘We have an ethical obligation to love our neighbors and protect their unalienable rights, regardless of their particular ways of being human with respect to gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religious perspectives, ethnicity, physical ability, immigration status, and any other particularity used to discriminate. . .All human beings have been created in God’s image and all have been endowed by their Creator with the fundamental right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. No person speaking in the name of government or in the name of God can do so to undermine or deny this right.'”

Theologians who signed include M. Shawn Copeland, Charles E. Curran, Sr. Margaret Farley, Elizabeth Johnson, Orlando Espin, Maria Teresa Davila, Bradford Hinze, and Cristinia L.H. Traina. Many church reform advocates signed, including Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, and Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry.

Catholics are not the only voices expressing concern about how the Commission. Nearly 180 civil and human rights groups joined 200-plus high profile diplomats, scholars, and public officials in sending their own letter calling for the Commission to be terminated based on the members’ “extreme positions opposing LGBTQI and reproductive rights,” reported the Washington Blade.

Elsewhere, Professor Drew Christiansen, S.J. wrote for America about the problems with the Commission on Unalienable Rights. If, as the State Department’s spokesperson said, the Commission’s purview is not to look at policies, and in particular not those related to gender, sexuality, and reproductive rights, then what is it doing? Christiansen commented:

“Secretary Pompeo’s review of unalienable rights represents a threat to two key dimensions of the modern human rights law: First, it threatens our acknowledgement of the historic development of rights over the centuries. We have come a long way since Magna Carta. Second, it puts the universality of rights, proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, at risk.

“One possibility is to re-make international human rights in the American mode, narrowing their scope to reflect an exceptionalist American view of human rights. This seems to be Mr. Pompeo’s intention.”

The Trump administration has been aggressively pushing the issue of religious liberty internationally, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Last week, the second U.S.-sponsored Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom gathered government officials and religious leaders from 106 nations. There it was announced that the U.S. would be launching the International Religious Freedom Alliance and sanctioning some nations for alleged religious liberty abuses. Especially relevant to Catholics, it was announced further that the United States and the Holy See would co-host a religious liberty summit on October 2nd, reported Crux.

If the Trump administration’s domestic agenda is any indication, the concerns behind these letters and statements are entirely justified. Its misuse of religious liberty and natural law could do great harm to LGBTQ equality worldwide given the U.S. government’s outsized influence. The Holy See should reconsider its joint summit in October, and all Catholics must keep speaking out against the threat that Mary Ann Glendon and her Commission on Unalienable Rights poses.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 25, 2019

Related story:

NBC News: “Human rights groups lead chorus of alarm over new Trump administration commission

4 replies
  1. Duane S Sherry
    Duane S Sherry says:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

     — Martin Niemöller

    • Richard R.
      Richard R. says:

      Thank You, Duane, for sharing this well-known statement by Martin
      Niemoller of Blessed Memory. Hopefully History will NOT repeat

  2. Marita-Constance(Connie) Supan, IHM, Ph.D.
    Marita-Constance(Connie) Supan, IHM, Ph.D. says:

    Don’t save anything unless you are asking me, with advanced degrees in both theology and psychology, to also sign the letter. I have no taste for being SHOWN a letter signed by the elite in this Church which has long been exclusive of many groups, not only the LGBTQ community. This sounds eerily like more of the same.

    Don’t ask me for support against discrimination by asking me to affirm an equally discriminative letter. For goodness’ sake, give us a break!
    Sister Marita-Constance (Connie) Supan, IHM, Ph.D.


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