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Holy See expresses cautious support for UN development goals

The Holy See on Tuesday expressed its “strong support” for the 2030 United Nations development agenda, but added it has “firm reservations” about some items in the agenda document.

“This Agenda is a clear sign that, in spite of differences in some areas, the international community has come together and affirmed its commitment to eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions and to ensure that all children, women and men throughout the world will have the conditions necessary to live in both freedom and dignity,” the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations said in a Sept. 1 statement on the document.

They also have “firm reservations to certain items,” as stated in an accompanying Sept. 1 press release.

The United Nations’ new global development agenda sets broad, comprehensive goals for the next 15 years with the aims of fighting global poverty and hunger and human trafficking, and promoting sustainable energy, among other desired achievements. Funding for the goals is massive, estimated to require $5-7 trillion.

Titled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the agenda was first drafted in 2014 and the outcome document was finalized Aug. 2. That document will be adopted at the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Summit Sept. 25-27. Pope Francis will address the U.N. general assembly just before this summit begins.

Within these broad goals are specific targets to meet in order to achieve those goals. Progress toward these targets and goals will be measured by specific indicators which will be drafted after the agenda goes into effect in 2016.

“The Agenda rightly puts the centrality of the human person as the subject primarily responsible for development,” the Holy See stated, adding that they are “confident that the related pledge ‘no one will be left behind’ will serve as the perspective through which the entire Agenda will be read to protect the right to life of the person, from conception until natural death.”

However, the Holy See expressed “reservations” about two targets in particular, targets 3.7 and 5.6. Pro-life advocates have already warned that language in these targets could be interpreted to promote abortion access worldwide.

Target 3.7 states, “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

Target 5.6 states, “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.”

Veteran U.N. watchdogs have already warned that language in these targets will be interpreted to include abortion access by wealthy donors, who will have the final word when the goals are implemented.

Language of “sexual and reproductive health” has been interpreted to include abortion access by many Western countries and U.N. agencies, one former U.N. diplomat who partook in many negotiations about sexual and reproductive health language told CNA in June.

Furthermore, donors from these countries and from the U.N. could then use the prospect of development funding to pressure poorer countries to liberalize their abortion laws, the former diplomat added.

Even though Target 5.6 does cite previous U.N. documents respecting national laws on abortion – the “Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action” – donors can still withhold development funding so as to pressure pro-life countries to change their abortion laws.

“To most of the world, especially the developing world, the U.S. is like a life-or-death situation for them,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) had told CNA in an August interview. “If they have refugees, they need refugee money. And to the developing world, the U.N. is almost like another government, if not a major government, for them.”

Western politicians have acknowledged that the language includes abortion access, such as the head of Canada’s permanent mission to the U.N., who in 2001 admitted that “services” for “reproductive health care” included abortion access. In 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Smith that the U.S. definition of “reproductive health” included abortion access.

Ultimately, the Holy See said it does not interpret this language to include abortion access, stating that it “does not consider abortion or access to abortion as a dimension of these terms.”

Rather, it interprets them “as applying to a holistic concept of health, which embrace, each in their own way, the person in the entirety of his or her personality, mind and body, and which foster the achievement of personal maturity in sexuality and in the mutual love and decision-making that characterize the conjugal-relationship between a man and a woman in accordance with moral norms.”

Marie Smith, who had served as a U.N. observer for the Holy See, has explained to CNA how controversial the development agenda has been.

Over 20 countries objected to the proposed agenda in 2014, she said, and when the outcome document was finalized on Aug. 2, there was still opposition to the language in question and “there still are broad differences” about it, she told CNA.

The Holy See also expressed its reservations about other items in the document.

Regarding contraception and other family planning terms, they reiterated their “well-known position concerning those family-planning methods which the Catholic Church considers morally acceptable and, on the other hand, family-planning services which do not respect the liberty of the spouses, human dignity and the human rights of those concerned.”

Regarding the term “gender”, the Holy See stated that it “understands the term to be grounded in the biological sexual identity that is male or female.”

In reference to sexual education mentioned in the document, the Holy See re-affirmed “the ‘primary responsibility’ and the ‘prior rights’ of parents, including their right to religious freedom, when it comes to the education and upbringing of their children, as enshrined, inter alia, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”


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