The Vatican has criticized sharply a new United Nations report on the human rights of women and of LGBTQ people, suggesting that “particularly unacceptable and offensive” are sections which the Holy See claims require religious liberty to be subjugated to “human rights.”
Jamie Manson wrote about the new report and the Holy See’s reaction in the National Catholic Reporter. The report was released ahead of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women meetings, which had been scheduled for this month before being cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Manson reported:
“The report from the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief examines the way in which religious groups influence laws and state-sanctioned practices that violate the rights of women, girls and LGBTQ persons.
“‘I firmly reject any claim that religious beliefs can be invoked as a legitimate ‘justification’ for violence or discrimination against women, girls or LGBT+ people. The right to freedom of religion protects individuals and not religions as such,’ Ahmed Shaheed, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said in a press release.
“‘Women and LGBT+ people experience discrimination and violence inflicted in the name of religion by State and non-State actors that impedes their ability to fully enjoy their human rights,’ Shaheed added.
“He also expressed concern about the rise of religious and political campaigns that invoke religious freedom in an attempt to roll back human rights.
“There is an ‘increasing use of religion or belief to deny reproductive health and sexual rights; criminalize protected conduct and deny the equal personhood of LGBT+ persons; or to undermine the right to freedom of religion or belief to women, girls and LGBT+ persons,’ the report states.”
In response, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, who represents the Holy See’s delegation at the United Nations in Geneva, released the following:
“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.”
Manson documents in her column the Holy See’s lengthy history since the mid-1990s of opposing human right for women and for LGBTQ people. She commented on this latest development:
“The reality is that the Holy See and other religious institutions are using their ideologies to control and dominate the bodies and lives of women and LGBTQ persons worldwide. In some cases, these vulnerable people are being subjected to the beliefs of religious groups to which they do not even belong.
“This is certainly the case in the United States, where the Trump administration has given vigorous support to the U.S. bishops’ campaign to use religious liberty claims as justification for denying women and LGBTQ persons fundamental rights to health, safety and protection from harm.
“The rapporteur’s report is the boldest attempt we have seen so far to curb the overreach of religious groups in civil law. The question is, will states finally find the courage to stop giving in to them?”
New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo participated in an interfaith consultation called by Shaheed at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in October 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to provide the rapporteur with diverse perspectives on religious liberty and gender/sexual equality. “The participants at the meeting offered insightful perspectives into this issue which concerns a variety of people of faith and equality proponents,” DeBernardo said. “I was impressed with how Mr. Shaheed reached out and listened to the concerns of religious leaders and LGBTQ and women’s advocates as a way for him to prepare this report. His final report is a sensitive balancing of the rights of all individuals and organizations”
The Catholic Church’s international influence has been, in many cases, quite positive over the years. Church leaders have been central to peace processes in the world and the Holy See still advocates for marginalized communities, like migrants and refugees, often maligned or ignored by most nations. But Manson is correct that the church’s involvement when it comes to the human rights of women and of LGBTQ people is deeply problematic. Until the church stops misusing religious liberty to justify discrimination its witness as a human rights advocate will remain compromised.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 13, 2020