Vatican attacked again by UN committee

If the Catholic Church is so out of touch and irrelevant, why the concerted efforts at the UN to drive out the Vatican’s influence?

This goes back years. Why now? And what’s behind this latest attack?

As faithful Catholics continue to contend with last week’s incendiary United Nations report attacking the Church for her teachings on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, it may be time to look closely at the real agenda at the United Nations.

For more than two decades, the UN has dedicated itself to attempting to diminish the influence of the Church on life issues. We need to begin to understand why.

In an October 2013 Crisis article entitled “Kicking the Church out of the UN,” Austin Ruse, the president of Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), suggests that the reason for the hostility directed at the Church is because the Church has obstructed the goals of the population control zealots at the UN. “Starting at the Cairo Conference in 1994, the Church has been able to block an international right to abortion … the Holy See has consistently handed the Catholics for Choice, the Norwegians, the United Nations Population Fund and all the other uglies at the UN defeat after defeat.”

It is likely that last week’s UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report was payback. Despite its non-voting status at the United Nations, the Holy See has stood as the major barrier to the UN goal of universal access to abortion and contraception for young girls and women throughout the world. While the Church was unable to convince all countries—including the United States—of the evils of abortion, the Vatican, as a sovereign state, continues to play an important role at the negotiating table in areas in which the Church has a stake in helping to ensure the right to life and the dignity of the person.

The UN has attempted to end that influence.

This is so implausible, given the foundations of the United Nations on the dignity and rights of all human beings, universally.

But here we are.

So who’s looking out for whom? Sr. Mary Ann Walsh puts it well, and succinctly.

Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a crime and no organization can become complacent about addressing it. The Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem and it will continue to lead in doing so…

A report from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Unfortunately the report is weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception. This seems to violate the U.N.’s obligation from its earliest days to defend religious freedom. In 1948, the organization adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declared that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Certainly the U.N. charge to defend religious freedom includes defending the Church’s right to determine its own teachings. Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to church. That’s what happened last September when militants killed 81 people, including children, attending Sunday school at a Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is correct to voice concern over sexual abuse and is to be commended for its efforts. It would have credibility, however, if it also worked to protect the most basic right of a child: the right to live. Would that it made headlines because of concern for minors being trafficked in the world’s sex trade and children dying from starvation and dysentery from impure water. When the U.N. committee strays into the culture wars to promote abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage, it undermines its noble cause and trades concern for children to concern for organizations with other agendas. What a lost opportunity.

So what’s the upshot?

…the secular human rights regime believes it is at the brink of final victory in these matters. (It has believed so for about 50 years now.) The forces of obscurity are in retreat and religion no longer dictates people’s lives, at least in the civilized West. The Catholic Church, in particular, is on the ropes, a victim of its own sins and intransigence. Why not put an end to its obstructionism once and for all? This would help the cause of progress, and actually be a good thing for the Church, too.

The committee no doubt expected the negative reaction of the Vatican to last week’s report. But it may have been surprised that so many in the elite media objected too. The Economist criticized the report for being sloppy and taking positions on issues where consensus is lacking. The Atlantic’s Emma Green complained that the report inappropriately critiqued deeply-held religious beliefs. And the Boston Globe’s John Allen argued that the report would only confirm the opinion of skeptics that the UN is motivated by politics and secular ideology. Perhaps the final victory is still a ways off.

One of sound mind and clear reasoning can only hope. Or better still, hope that perhaps there will be no victory at all for the aggressors against the greatest defender of human dignity and human rights around the world.

Run-up to Syria

What’s about to happen?

Opinions and analyses are all over the place. Atrocities have been committed in Syria  against innocent human beings for what seems an interminably long time and have so outraged humanitarians around the world, we’ve been calling for someone to do something to stop it. But governments weren’t acting and the United Nations wasn’t acting and it was up to ‘alternative media’ to keep the generating news of it and encouragement for, well, ‘the world community’ to do something to end atrocities and save innocent lives and give people relief from terror.

The trouble is, there are so many places where people live with atrocities and terror and need humanitarian aid and relief, world leaders have to weigh it all and calculate their nation’s international commitments, while relief organizations are overloaded with work trying to respond to the need.

So leaving aside for the moment those other regions that desperately need our attention, Syria is not only in the spotlight, it just got put in the bullseye by President Obama and his chief military advisers. Because as most of the world knows, he painted himself in a corner

An assemblage of some thought provoking coverage…

As I type these words, the United States is not at war with Syria. Yet. (Firing cruise missiles at another sovereign nation, no matter how just the cause, is an act of war.) But many of the same people, plus some additions, that were, in the words of Greg Mitchell of the Nation, “So Wrong for So Long,” when it came to Iraq are now urging an obviously reluctant President Obama to “do something,” especially after reports of possible chemical weapon use by the Assad regime.

This leaves me in an increasingly familiar and uncomfortable position: total ambivalence. I understand why the use of chemical weapons changes the moral and strategic equation. There are some lines regimes should not be allowed to cross with impunity. To put it bluntly, it may be their civil war but it is our shared humanity. Not only are there limits to what governments can and should be allowed to do their citizens — two obvious examples being the use of weapons of mass destruction and genocide, which, as U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers has documented, usually go hand-in-hand — but we really don’t want to live in a world where the use of such weapons are viewed as no big deal.

Thus, my ambivalence doesn’t stem from a lack of repugnance or outrage — it stems from the fact that I’ve seen this movie before and I know that it’s not going to end well…

We invaded Iraq without understanding the difference between a Shia, a Sunni, and a Kurd, much less that Kurds could be either Shia or Sunni, and, oh yeah, Iraq was home to one of the oldest Christian communities on Earth.

Let’s consider this piece alone for the moment, though there are so many others. So…

Thus, before we fire the first cruise missile, we need to ask ourselves “what is the goal?” It can’t be regime change if no other reason than, even if you can justify it morally, the United States really, really, really stinks at regime change.

Nor can it be to “alter the equation” on the battlefield. I’m sorry but, at most, our role is analogous to that of a referee. Our “job” is to make sure that both sides play by some semblance of rules, if not for their sake, then for ours. The outcome of the contest is not our concern. Not because we see the sides as moral equivalents but because in civil wars you need to ask, “What comes next?”

And in Syria, there is every reason to believe that the answer is, to paraphrase Madame de Pompadour, “après Bashar al-Assad, le deluge.” That’s almost certainly the case for Syria’s Christian minority, who, it should be noted, are descended from the first people to be called “Christians.” The Alawites can’t be too sanguine about their prospects in a post-Assad Syria, either. And they control the military and all those weapons we are worried about.

So, if regime change and “altering the equation” are out — and I pray they are — that leaves us looking for a response that will “send a message” without entangling us in a conflict that the American people want no part of, and where we can’t even begin to imagine what “success,” as in “a reasonable chance of success,” looks like.

Yeah, I’m talking about “Just War.” I hate to bring up Iraq again (not really), but one lesson we should have learned from that debacle is that finding a “just cause” is the easy part. Nation-states can always identify some “vital interest,” which, it should be noted, is not the same thing as a “just cause,” not that anyone notices the difference. The toughest part is figuring out how to protect that interest without making matters worse.

And making matters worse is an almost inevitable result of modern warfare, especially in a region as, pardon the cliché, “volatile” as the Middle East. Unexpected consequences should be expected, which makes defining success even more difficult than usual. Al-Assad can be driven from power and replaced with a well-intentioned Sunni leader who, in turn can be replaced by (a) a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, (b) a Salafist, or (c) another authoritarian strongman. The first two would be a catastrophe for Syria’s Christians and Alawites and bad enough for non-Islamist Sunnis, and the last one would mean that hundreds of thousands of Syrians died to replace one dictator with another. Meet the new boss, basically the same as the old boss.

Everyone’s trying to figure this out.

Here’s Stanley Kurtz:

Our coming intervention in Syria already looks like a no-win proposition. If we go heavy, we’re liable to empower al-Qaeda and assorted jihadists, or tie ourselves down excessively. If we go light, we’ll seem like paper tigers. Obama’s foolish decision to turn chemical weapons use into a red line is what got us into this mess. We wouldn’t be acting now had he not trapped himself with a bluff he thought Assad would never call.

When Samantha Power’s humanitarian interventionism first emerged as an explanation for the war in Libya, many found it hard to take the administration’s stated justification for action at face value. It’s true that pleasing Egypt’s “liberal” revolutionaries by going after Gaddafi was a partial motive for the war in Libya (another mistake). Yet Obama truly shares Power’s vision of utopian interventionism, even if he’s somewhat less inclined to take political risks on its behalf than she is. We wouldn’t have gone into Libya had Gaddafi not threatened Benghazi.

This time, it’s clear that we wouldn’t be acting in Syria had Assad not used chemical weapons. As Max Boot put it, prior to the gas attack there was “approximately zero chance” that America would intervene in Syria. Obama painted himself into a corner by explicitly calling chemical weapons use a red line last year. At the time it seemed like a cost-free way of endorsing Power’s vision. It no longer does.

Supporters and opponents of the Syrian intervention agree that simply lobbing a few cruise missiles at chemical weapons storage-areas will be useless or worse. Any attack that Assad easily survives will make us look weak, turning our “red lines” into jokes.

There’s a lesson here. Humanitarian interventions seem to be limited and discrete. Threaten to massacre a city, and we block you. Use chemical weapons and we take them out. In practice, however, it doesn’t work that way. Once we enter a conflict on humanitarian grounds, anything short of well-executed regime-change tends to make us look weak.

By defining chemical weapons use as a “red line,” instead of one factor among many to be judged in context at the moment of use, we allow humanitarian concerns to compel huge, risky, and difficult-to-control adventures that go way beyond their initial stated purpose. The alternative is to come off looking ineffective by ignoring our declared limits of tolerance. In other words, all we achieve by drawing humanitarian lines before-the-fact is to surrender control of our own foreign policy.

In even other words, Obama’s Middle East policy is incoherent.

As a result, Obama has come to be more disliked in the Middle East than his predecessor:

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project finds that support for the United States is lower now in Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan than it was in 2008. Approval for Obama’s policies was only 15 percent in Muslim countries last spring; what that rate would be now in Egypt and Syria is anyone’s guess, but a safe guess would be “lower.”

Truly amazing. It is hard to imagine the level of incompetence that is required for our foreign policy to be in such disarray. But there it is.

And here we are. On August 31st, President Obama announced his decision. Sort of.

Like John Kerry, I can’t get the images of children and women and men, families dead and dying from chemical-weapons attacks out of my head. But I also don’t see an administration with any plan — only what has been described as selective outrage. (And, yes, Mr. President, the chemical weapons attack was an affront to human dignity. We have some here, too, by the way.)  And now it looks like the president wanted to strike but couldn’t take the pressure and so is going to get Congress to let him off the hook? I think it is just as well that we won’t arbitrarily intervene, months late. But it’s not confidence-inspiring. It’s not leadership.

Many have noticed.

The president just appeared in the Rose Garden to declare that he has the authority to strike Syria in a limited way to punish the regime for its barbaric use of chemical weapons. And he will strike Syria—but has decided to seek Congressional authorization before he strikes Syria.

On the face of it, this is literally nonsensical. If Obama has the authority, he does not need Congressional authorization, and since he is characterizing his need to act in moral terms, a useful punitive strike in the midst of a civil war in which thousands can be killed in a day must as a moral matter be undertaken as soon as possible in order to punish the regime and degrade its ability to kill its own people at will. Instead, he has declared his intention to wait until Congress comes back in session—in eight days—and then debate the matter for a couple of days and then vote. At which time he will act. Unless of course it votes against him. In which case…what? He has said he has the authority to strike; what does he do then?

Princeton Professor Robert P. George, an expert on constitutional law and foreign affairs and the Chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, has some sound advice.

Before finally making the call about what to do in Syria, I pray that President Obama will call President George W. Bush and request his advice on the bomb or missile attacks he is contemplating. I know President Bush. He is a good and gracious man. He would take President Obama’s call and give him the best advice he has, based on his own experience, including what he learned from his own mistakes. He would not hold it against President Obama that Obama has, for his own political reasons, demonized him and blamed him for . . . well, for just about everything his own administration has been criticized for.

I have never met President Obama, but I suspect that he and those close to him believe–quite wrongly–that President Bush is a dummy and that President Obama is vastly more intelligent. He and they may therefore believe that President Obama has nothing to learn from President Bush. That attitude in itself, if I am right about it, is reflective of the arrogance that got President Obama into this pickle in the first place. “Pride” really does “goeth before a fall.” But I hope that President Obama will, on this occasion, with so much at stake for the people of the Middle East and for the world, swallow his pride and call President Bush. The unintended side-effects of an effort to punish Assad–an evil man, to be sure–while leaving him in power (so that radical Islamists among the rebel forces will not suddenly find themselves ruling a key country and controlling its state apparatus), could be catastrophic. According to the Washington Post, this is what President Obama’s own military advisors are telling him. I suspect that President Bush would reinforce that advice, and perhaps offer some points of his own that President Obama should consider.

…I have no idea whether Obama would take Bush’s advice, whatever it is. But this is a time for the current President to seek guidance wherever he can best get it, and I have no doubt that there is guidance to be had from the man who sat for eight years in the seat in which he is now sitting, and who made some decisions that turned out well and others that turned out badly.

It may be that President Obama will have to endure some embarrassment in order to do the right thing in the case of Syria. His rhetoric has placed him out on a limb. Climbing safely back may take personal humility of a sort that the current President has not previously displayed. Here, too, talking to President Bush might help. George Bush, knowing the burdens of the presidency, and being a man of deep faith, might just be able to assist Barack Obama, man to man, in developing the perspective he needs to do the right thing, even at the cost of some personal embarrassment.

That came after days of television and radio news programs airing clips of former Senator Obama declaring his profound disapproval of the president’s handling of decisions to engage militarily in foreign conflicts and perceived threats. Then, one time this week, in all the rhetoric of the media and political pundits, I heard someone say this occasion proves the cliche that it doesn’t matter where you stand as much as where you sit in the final analysis. Obama now sits in the hot seat, and he needs help.

UN studies ‘status of women’

That requires a qualifier, depending on what constitutes the UN, and which group there is being cited. 

Who is best looking out for the rights of women judging from, say, the the recently held United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women? Especially given this year’s theme of ‘violence against women,’ which is a huge concern around the world, with ongoing gendercide against baby girls and murder attempts on girls who publicly speak out on education for girls?

The Permanent Observer to the Holy See, for one.

In this connection, the Holy See has urged nations around the world to recognize women’s inalienable right “to life” and to “security,” rights articulated in the justly admired Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Isn’t it amazing that it takes a Vatican representative to call nations of the world to recognize women’s inalienable right to life? And security? Both of which are covered in the now much overlooked UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It’s not surprising that the Catholic Church would be taking such a prominent stance for human dignity and rights for women as well as men and children. No exceptions.

What might be surprising to most Americans are some of the additional and genuinely bold human rights positions staked out by the Holy See at this conference. These are positions likely to make more than a few developed nations more than a little uncomfortable.

“Developed” is a relative term here.

Take, for example, the Holy See’s position on health care and medicine. The Church is arguing for a “right” to basic health care in situations involving violence against women and men. Not to mention a “right” to medicines for populations which are either in danger, or unable to afford a medicine they desperately require for their health. These of course are not new positions, as Catholic institutions have been at the forefront of providing health care for victims of violence in all corners of the globe for centuries, but they are consistent positions which put people in need ahead of interests in profit.

The Holy See is also requesting global agreement to oppose forced sterilization and forced abortions.

Does this not just make every sense in the world? Can we not agree, for crying out loud, to oppose forced sterilization and forced abortion?

Apparently not, judging from the aggressive efforts of certain forces at the UN.

Over 20 groups are asking U.S. Secretary of State to end the U.S. obstruction over abortion at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Here is the letter sent today…

And it’s embarrassing and shameful that a US Secretary of State had to be presented this letter by over 20 groups. Seriously.

Dear Secretary Kerry,

This week the United States has an opportunity to advance international efforts to prevent violence against women and girls through the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We are disturbed to learn that the U.S. delegation is, instead, exploiting this effort to insist on language that the former Secretary of State and others say includes abortion. The delegation is also not supporting language that upholds national sovereignty.

That is unacceptable.

It is especially shocking that the U.S. called for deleting a reaffirmation that every human being has the “inherent right to life, liberty and security of persons.” This contradicts a foundational principle of citizens and civilizations worldwide.

This contradicts civility, reason and basic human rights. Read that again, though it makes my country look very bad. Or the delegation representing the official US power elite at the UN.

Last year, negotiations at this same Commission failed to reach agreement because the U.S. insisted on language that has been defined as abortion without limits. The U.S. also required that the agreement not recognize that countries have a say in how policies are implemented. This principle of national sovereignty is fundamental to U.S. independence and a necessary standard for other countries as well.

This position contradicts current U.S. laws, which allow limits on abortion and bans funding abortions internationally. The U.S. delegation’s work will lead people to believe that the Administration is attempting to undermine U.S. laws through little-noticed agreements at the U.N.

Because that is what the US delegation is doing, on behalf of the Administration.

The delegations at the Commission are under exceptional pressure to reach agreement this year. It appears the U.S. is holding the agreement hostage to impose policies that violate America’s own standards. The U.S. delegation’s position risks our country’s reputation of helping women victims of violence worldwide, to replace it with abortion as the ultimate priority.

We respectfully ask that you direct the U.S. delegation to end its demand for controversial abortion-related language, and support language upholding national sovereignty.

And in the end, the protection of women’s rights and human life only won the day by joint force with developing nations that refused to be bullied.

A last ditch effort by ambassadors and top UN officials failed last night to reach agreement on policies to end violence against women because powerful western developed countries want to scrap previous agreements that do not recognize abortion as a right.

After four weeks of intense negotiations, ambassadors were brought in to negotiate the late night session. The United States and European countries raised the stakes at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, a UN body of 45 UN member states that formulates policies for women, making agreement more elusive.

By Friday morning, the last day of the meeting, the Commission had agreed to exclude “sexual and reproductive health services” from the final agreement. The term is associated with abortion-causing drugs.

I would call this a silly game if it were only that. But it involves so much more, and worse. You won’t hear that from major ‘elite’ media.

Contrary to reports by Reuters, the Associated Press, and an unsigned New York Times editorial, no delegation participating at the commission proposed that cultural, religious, or traditional values should be used to excuse violence against women. During the week over 400 organizations wrote in support of the Holy See and nations that protect life, the family, and acknowledge the important role of cultures and religions in ending violence against women…

The agreed conclusions, which have no binding effect, are a testing ground for future UN conferences on the subject of abortion, population control, and homosexual rights. Wealthy countries want to commit African leaders to spending billions of dollars on family planning programs. Efforts are underway to influence Islamic groups on gender issues and reproductive rights. But abortion and homosexual rights’ policies have not been welcome in traditional countries.

Hold firm to your principles and values, people of goodwill and advocates of true human rights.

Advancing radical agenda

Sometimes, it seems like we’re dwelling in Wonderland. But some of us who are aware are doing a lot of wondering. Especially about headlines and stories that are too bizarre to make up, but too extreme to be true. Except…they are.

Like this one. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women just wrapped up over last weekend, and it was quite a fiasco, as usual.

“The sexual behavior of men can be a form of violence against women because it can result in pregnancy,” stated an official of the U.N. Secretariat earlier this week during negotiations at the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), at which the U.N.’s typical loopiness has abounded.

The New York Times got into the game this week with an unsigned editorial claiming the Holy See, Iran and Russia are “trying to eliminate language in a draft communiqué asserting that the familiar excuses—religion, custom, tradition—cannot be used by governments to duck their obligations to eliminate violence.”

The Times accuses this “Unholy Alliance” of being indifferent to violence against women and of using religion to protect wife-beaters, reminding us that, “The efforts by the Vatican and Iran to control women are well known.”

Yet the claim that these groups are seeking to strip protections from women “is a flat-out lie,” as one person close to the negotiations told me. In fact what is happening is the Holy See and her allies are blocking proposals by the U.S. and E.U. that would be used to promote a right to abortion.

Just look at the disconnect right there. The theme of this year’s CSW was ‘violence against women,’ and yet the radical abortion lobbyists don’t see, understand or consider what abortion is and does. Putting aside for now the trauma to women who have abortions, the procedure itself terminates the life of millions of human beings, roughly half of whom are females. All the worse, they should think – if they thought – when the abortion is procured because the baby is a girl. Gendercide is not just happening in China, bad enough as it is there. It’s happening in the US and other places. Where’s the outrage?

I’ve got a little bit here…

The U.S. and E.U. also are pushing language calling for comprehensive sexuality education covering the farthest frontiers of sexuality.

Austin Ruse, who wrote this piece, was my guest on radio this week. I was ashamed to learn what a leading role the US played, together with the EU, in pushing this radical agenda.

But admittedly glad when they failed.

Failure to deliver agreed conclusions was never an option at this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). But the two week session was fraught with worries about negotiations collapsing, as happened in 2003 when violence against women was last taken up by the UN commission, or last year, when bullying by the US delegation derailed consensus. But the fears never materialized. By Friday afternoon only seven paragraphs remained to be decided, and agreed conclusions were adopted Friday evening.

Abortion advocates, in and outside governments, wanted to move the ball forward for abortion rights. The United States and Nordic countries pressed pro-life nations to scrap previous agreements that place abortion in a bad light. To argue their case activists and the media reported falsely that pro-life countries wanted to use religion to excuse violence.

The United States brought in veteran activist Adrienne Germain to direct their negotiators. She was instrumental for the Clinton administration at the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) where “safe abortion” first became a rallying cry for the global abortion lobby. At this year’s CSW abortion groups found themselves stymied by that very landmark conference. ICPD does not recognize abortion as a right and says it should never be used as a backup to contraception.

Ambiguous terms sometimes used to disguise abortion, like reproductive rights or sexual and reproductive health, were included in the policies adopted by CSW. But they were  included “in accordance with ICPD.” The 1994 agreement also respects the sovereignty of UN member states to legislate according to custom, religion and tradition. Abortion groups are claiming this last point was conceded, even though the agreed conclusions include a paragraph that recognizes the “significance of national and regional particularities” as well as “historical, cultural and religious backgrounds” in legislation that implements UN policies.

The global abortion lobby has waited for years for the right moment to go beyond ICPD. Some Latin American states have signaled they are willing, but UN member states overall are not comfortable moving away from ICPD, at least on abortion, population control and other controversial policies like special new rights for homosexuals.

Last week’s agreement not only reaffirms the ICPD standard for abortion, but extends it to the morning-after pill. Deceptively called “emergency contraception,” the controversial pill can destroy nascent human life.

Follow the arguments and connect the dots. Because the radical agenda lobbyists thrive on distortion, confusion and lack of awareness.

And here’s a very important point, one I made on a riff on radio, when we have a young Pakistani girl shot in the head because she advocates the right for girls to have an education.

The myopic focus of some delegations on abortion and homosexual rights tragically prevented the commission from addressing other widespread forms of violence against women. The commission failed to denounce sex-selective abortion, as well as the thousands of women that die each year because of religious persecution.

Thankfully, Helen Alvare was there, with her eloquent address and elegant reasoning.

Helen Alvaré, a professor at George Mason School of Law, delivered an official statement on behalf of the Holy See. “Respect for human life is the starting point to confront a culture of violence,” she stated. Abortion is a form of violence and the “only proper response (to a woman in need) is radical solidarity.” The Holy See also decried the commodification of women that has resulted from the spread of a “sexual ideology” that sees women as objects.

“The cause of women’s freedom is unfinished,” she concluded, quoting John Paul II.

Indeed. Watch this space.

Pope Francis surprises

It hasn’t yet been a week since he was elected, but the man announced as Cardinal Bergoglio/Pope Francis who first appeared to the world on the loggia of St. Peter’s and stood stiff and straight and speechless for what seemed a long time took only a few minutes to throw the world off balance. In a good way.

The ‘firsts’ are legendary now. First Jesuit pope, first Pope Francis, first pope to ask for the people’s prayers for him and bow to receive it in a moment of silence, before he blessed them. And so on. He is who he is, and so profoundly and historically weighty an elevation as this was not going to change him. Take a look at this brief video of the cardinals greeting him after the election. Many of them left laughing. And the account of the doorman at the Jesuit house in Rome who answered the phone when the pope called to thank the Father General for his gracious letter of congratulations.

Over the weekend Facebook was filled with photos of the new pope checking out at his hotel in Rome and paying his own bill from his own funds, in his white papal garments. Which were quickly followed by photos from inside the bus where cardinals were shuttled around Vatican grounds and there in one of the bus seats was a white-robed pope. He opted for that ride instead of a chauffered car. The Vatican is not used to this.

He greeted the credentialed journalists who covered the  conclave and his election – about 6,000 of them – and disarmed them with his ready wit and easy smile. And a message that was pointed and direct but warm.

The role of the mass media has expanded immensely in these years, so much so that they are an essential means of informing the world about the events of contemporary history. I would like, then, to thank you in a special way for the professional coverage which you provided during these days – you really worked, didn’t you? – when the eyes of the whole world, and not just those of Catholics, were turned to the Eternal City and particularly to this place which has as its heart the tomb of Saint Peter. Over the past few weeks, you have had to provide information about the Holy See and about the Church, her rituals and traditions, her faith and above all the role of the Pope and his ministry.

I am particularly grateful to those who viewed and presented these events of the Church’s history in a way which was sensitive to the right context in which they need to be read, namely that of faith.
Historical events almost always demand a nuanced interpretation which at times can also take into account the dimension of faith. Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual…

He also gave them a scoop.

Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes [OFM]: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! Afterwards, people were joking with me. “But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need a reform…” And someone else said to me: “No, no: your name should be Clement”. “But why?” “Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!” These were jokes. I love all of you very much, I thank you for everything you have done. I pray that your work will always be serene and fruitful, and that you will come to know ever better the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rich reality of the Church’s life.

The next day, his first to celebrate Mass and deliver the traditional mid-day Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Francis took to the streets near the Vatican in an impromptu outreach to the people. It must have given the papal security detail fits. But that’s how he sees the mission of helping people ‘to know ever better the Gospel’ and ‘rich reality of the Church’s life’ and it’s the way he did it in Argentina.

So what did papal biographer George Weigel, one of the top world experts on the Catholic Church and the papacy, chief Vatican analyst for NBC News, have to say about this pick, after all? After the beloved and legendary John Paul II. After Benedict XVI. Excellent philosopher succeeded by excellent theologian, both of whom had participated in Vatican II and the blueprint for the Church’s engagement with the modern world. After Weigel recently released his latest book ‘Evangelical Catholicism’ as a blueprint for ‘Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church’?

With great aplomb, Weigel called Francis ‘The First American Pope’, and pronounced him just the right pick.

The swift election of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, S.J., as bishop of Rome is replete with good news — and not a little irony. To reverse the postmodern batting order, let’s begin with the good news.

A true man of God. The wheelchair-bound beggar at the corner of Via della Conciliazione and Via dell’Erba this morning had a keen insight into his new bishop: “Sono molto contento; e un profeta” (“I’m very happy; he’s a prophet”). That was certainly the overwhelming impression I took away from the hour I spent with the archbishop of Buenos Aires and future pope last May — here was a genuine man of God, who lives “out” from the richness and depth of his interior life; a bishop who approaches his responsibilities as a churchman and his decisions as the leader of a complex organization from a Gospel-centered perspective, in a spirit of discernment and prayer…

A pope for the New Evangelization. The election of Pope Francis completes the Church’s turn from the Counter-Reformation Catholicism that brought the Gospel to America — and eventually produced Catholicism’s first American pope — to the Evangelical Catholicism that must replant the Gospel in those parts of the world that have grown spiritually bored, while planting it afresh in new fields of mission around the globe.

Weigel nailed that, “parts of the world that have grown spiritually bored.” How to address the global culture today, and even find mission fields?

Here, in a statement that then-cardinal Bergoglio had a significant hand in drafting, is what John Paul II and Benedict XVI have called the “New Evangelization” in synthetic microcosm:

The Church of the 21st century cannot rely on the ambient public culture, or on folk memories of traditional Catholic culture, to transmit the Gospel in a way that transforms individual lives, cultures, and societies. Something more, something deeper, is needed.

Something much more, and much deeper, and much more accessible is needed.

That is the message that Pope Francis will take to the world: Gospel-centered Catholicism, which challenges the post-mod cynics, the metaphysically bored, and the spiritually dry to discover (or rediscover) the tremendous human adventure of living “inside” the Biblical narrative of history.

Judging from the boatload of other stories to cover, from Washington politics to Wall Street and Eurozone finances, Middle East flashpoints and middle America unrest, UN humanitarian relief missions to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, this is one to get right to get the rest at all. Because they are all centered on the dignity and humanity of the human person, and the right order of the way things ought to be, beautifully articulated in the Declaration of Independence, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other documents issued in between and since.

Pope Francis is officially installed at the Mass of Inauguration on Tuesday. It may be just another day to a lot of people. But it’s a new day for a lot of humanity.

‘Unfounded population fears’

The myth of overpopulation has been widely debunked for a while now. So did activists who based their global ‘reproductive health’ efforts shift attention to real human needs? No. They changed the language and spun it.

It’s a new messaging campaign, says C-Fam.

The pro-abortion UN Population Fund launched the 7 Billion Actions campaign this week on World Population Day with many new corporate and social media partners.

The new campaign is notable for its more optimistic tone and its dramatic shift in how the agency approaches population issues.  A major theme of the campaign is that 7 billion people present not only a challenge, but also an opportunity, particularly for “investing” in sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents. This reflects a wider movement of major population groups away from dire predictions and coercive measures towards language promoting empowerment and choice.

The Poulation Research Intitute knows all about that, in its different ramificaitons.

Overpopulation is a myth. This myth has caused human rights abuses around the world, forced population control, denied medicines to the poor, and targeted attacks on ethnic minorities and women.

So what are some of these groups at the UN up to now, the ones who claim there’s a war on women?

There’s this radical feminist agenda.

Then there’s this radical youth sexual rights aganda.

And this one on a UN agency pushing for abortion as a “human rights.”

Times like this, it feels like we’re living in an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ saga.

Let the UN look at itself

The U.S. is being judged by the United Nations Human Rights Council for our record and performance on human rights protections.  According to what? The guidelines spelled out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Or so they say. It’s not really as pristine a cause as that. It’s providing a forum for tyrants to blast the U.S.

I am not making this up. First I learned of it was when I interviewed the president of a UN watchdog group on radio this week going through the latest agenda activists are pursuing through that world body. Then the Times carried this op-ed piece confidently saying, more or less, ‘Bring it.’

The United States has nothing to fear from such criticism. Our society is an open one in which issues are exposed to widespread public scrutiny, and we can be confident that nothing truthful will be said in Geneva that has not been said before in America.

Well, yes. And the Obama administration believed themselves ready for that when they welcomed the criticism.

Anticipating harsh words from traditional adversaries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, [U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Esther] Brimmer took a jibe at those countries’ restrictions on freedom of speech by telling the 47-nation council that the Obama administration was used to hearing criticism from its own citizens at home, in newspapers, blogs and talk radio shows.

So, there’s some parity here?

Among the first to challenge Washington was Russia, which urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, called on Washington to better promote religious tolerance, and Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

China was among dozens of countries urging the U.S. to ratify key international conventions on the rights of women and children that Washington has signed but Congress has yet to approve.

This is rich. Indonesia lectures us on religious tolerance. Mexico complains about discrimination here. And China lecturing anyone on the rights of women and children?

So the U.S. is now on the defense.

“We acknowledge imperfection,” said Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, adding that while the “glaring original flaw” of slavery had been abolished, the Obama administration was “not satisfied with the status quo.”

That explains a lot.

“Recognition of problems is a first step,” said Antonio M. Ginatta, director of advocacy at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Which is what Pope Benedict intended in his address to the UN General Assembly in April 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His was a gentle reminder of what that declaration intended, and a notice of how far that body had strayed from its original intent.

…Pope Benedict continued that discussion by re-introducing moral grammar to the United Nations. Whether they understand the language will only become clearer in time, but they’re likely still trying to unpack the message. One week after his visit, however, the president and the press are still talking about the pope, and the impression he left of clarity with charity.

A couple of years hence, how are we doing on that?

UN’s conference on women: Shedding light

Many thousands of women, organizations and NGOs descended on New York for the recent global checkup with the annual  ‘Commission on the Status of Women’, with the Beijing conference as sort of a benchmark. It was heavy on the agenda of spreading access to abortion under the mantle of ‘reproductive rights’, but there was a large pro-life contingent there to stake claims that authentic dignity for women comes from true universal human rights….for all human beings.

C-Fam captures the atmosphere well in this report on the competing views of maternal health.

I also like the succinct statement on the Vatican Information Service by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Holy See permanent observer to the United Nations, who addressed this convoluted sounding gathering:

the fifty-fourth session of the Economic and Social Council’s Commission on the Status of Women, which was meeting to discuss “Item 3: Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled ‘Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century'”.

This is the kind of cumbersome official-speak we need to wade through to mine the gems of insight and wisdom contained within at least some of them. Archbishop Migliore had both. He said:

“From the successive interventions in these days, … it seems that the assessment is not entirely positive: It includes some light, but also many and disturbing shadows.

He went on to note some advancements in the status of women and improvement in their social conditions in the world at large, but he also noted women continue to suffer violence and abuse in many parts of the world. Don’t just necessarily think ‘underdeveloped’ world or places under repressive regimes in picturing that. Migliore zeroes in on the (sorry) inconvenient truth embedded in the modern feminist agenda through agencies like the UN.

Follow this closely:

“Achieving equality between women and men in education, employment, legal protection and social and political rights is considered in the context of gender equality. Yet the evidence shows that the handling of this concept … is proving increasingly ideologically driven, and actually delays the true advancement of women. Moreover, in recent official documents there are interpretations of gender that dissolve every specificity and complementarity between men and women. These theories will not change the nature of things but certainly are already blurring and hindering any serious and timely advancement on the recognition of the inherent dignity and rights of women”.

Spot on. Furthermore…

Archbishop Migliore stressed the fact that the final documents of international conferences and committees often “link the achievement of personal, social, economic and political rights to a notion of sexual and reproductive health and rights which is violent to unborn human life and is detrimental to the integral needs of women and men within society”.

Exactly. This is undeniably true, and needs to be said and heard and deliberated and embraced as a motivation for change.

“A solution respectful of the dignity of women does not allow us to bypass the right to motherhood, but commits us to promoting motherhood by investing in and improving local health systems and providing essential obstetrical services”, he said.

Reclaiming and protecting motherhood is an important goal for women’s progress and for the future of the world. No exaggeration.

“Fifteen years ago the Beijing Platform for Action proclaimed that women’s human rights are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. This is key not only to understanding the inherent dignity of women and girls but also to making this a concrete reality around the world”, he concluded.

And, at least I believe, key to peace in it.