Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Grey Lady’s “Unholy Alliance”


Prior to the euphoria associated with the election to the papacy of Pope Francis, The New York Times published this past Monday an editorial entitled “Unholy Alliance.” [Here] The editorial was a harsh critique of the Holy See and alleged that it was in an “unholy alliance” with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation designed to derail the “final communiqué” of the annual two-week meeting at the United Nations Headquarters of the Commission on the Status of Women. In relying on finger pointing of some “delegates” and “activists”, the Times argues that this “unholy alliance” is trying to eliminate language that would “eliminate violence” against women. I cannot say what approach the Iranians and Russians have taken in the discussions leading to the final text of this year’s Commission, but I can with humble confidence say something about the Holy See’s position and method of proceeding as expressed in its official intervention in the plenary sessions of the Commission. [Here]

I cannot reconcile the Times’s branding of the Holy See as part of a Trinitarian “unholy alliance” with the Vatican’s actual position in and contributions to the Commission’s deliberations. The Times fails to understand or accept the possibility that even “conservative hard-liners” might be right on certain issues, particularly when the subject matter deals with the falsehood that abortion is a “human right” as the Times contends. If we could ask to over fifty million young Americans who lost their lives from an abortion performed on them since Roe was decided, I am confident that they would also disagree that abortion is a “human right.” In this regard the Times defends its view with the statement that “[t]he efforts by the Vatican and Iran to control women are well known.” But is the Church’s position as well-known as the paper contends? Again, I cannot speak about Iran’s position, but it is imperative that if anyone including the Times and is interested in what is truly going on in the current session of the Commission on the Status of Women they must read the Holy See’s intervention to which I have already supplied to link. It is this statement, and not some phantom “unholy alliance”, that guides those delegates who represent the Holy See in their great efforts to stop violence against women and girls and to promote their genuine dignity and worth that is a central element of the UN’s mandate. When an objective reader considers the Vatican text, I doubt that he or she would reach the same conclusion that is proffered by the Times. It is not control of women that the Holy See is after; rather, it is the protection of everyone’s fundamental and natural claims to the life God has given us all.

The Times derides “traditional values” that it asserts are used to “justify the violation of basic human rights.” Yet, it does not specify which are the values espoused and which are the rights affected. However, the paper, in a weak effort to reinforce its position, relies on the Norwegian gender equality minister’s interesting assertion that “Violence against women must be seen as a human rights issue, and that has nothing to do with culture or religion.” The first part of her statement before the comma seems to make sense, but I question the second part in which it is contended that human rights have nothing to do with culture or religion. If this is the case, I think the Times and the minister ought to familiarize themselves with the major human rights instruments and declarations of public international law. When they do, they will see that religion and culture have a great deal to do with human rights because they are recognized as human rights; however, an examination of these same declarations and juridical documents reveals nothing about abortion being a human right. The reason for this is because it is not, nor could abortion become one.

The Times is correct in expressing outrage about violence against girls and women, but it does not acknowledge that the very first paragraph of the Holy See’s intervention says the following:

“This year’s choice of this important topic underlines the tragic reality of the continued victimization of women and girls around the world by myriad forms of exploitation and violence, in a shameful continuum, ranging from sex-selective abortions, female infanticide, abandonment, trafficking, rape, domestic abuse, rape as a weapon of war, forced prostitution, to misguided government policies unduly restricting the number of children per family and other forms of violence. Many women and girls, from the moment of conception until natural death, face an array of immoral and dehumanizing acts of violence. In addition, degrading practices, such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, forced sterilization and forced abortions, characterize this continuum and constitute heinous forms of oppression trampling upon the dignity of women and girls. This reality demands that Governments as well as all societal institutions undertake concerted and comprehensive efforts to address this grave problem.”

It is puzzling that the Times makes no effort to acknowledge the two dozen places in the Church’s interventions where the Vatican text addresses violence against women and girls. Moreover, unlike the Holy See, the Grey Lady is less interested in the authentic dignity and worth of women and girls, but, unlike the Holy See, it appears to be more interested in promoting the exaggerated autonomy of some persons over the authentic human rights of everyone. If there is an “unholy alliance” lurking somewhere in the meetings on the Commission of the Status of Women, the Holy See is not a part of it. Interestingly, the Holy See acknowledged that the commercialization of the human person has something to do with reinforcing a culture in which violence against girls, women, and everyone else is a part of the real problem. As her intervention stated:

“The advertising which proliferates around the world is an example of how the human person is demeaned, commodified and sexualized into an object for others’ perversion and lust. The woman is thereby reduced to a body without a mind or a soul. In this context, it is most urgent for us to discern solutions that are not merely limited to the short term, or lowest common denominator, and which inevitably prolong the causes for violence, but rather to pursue solutions which address the root causes of violence versus women.”

The Times would not have to look too far to observe one venue in which this commercialization that undermines rather than reinforces the dignity and worth of the human person takes place.


RJA sj



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