Wednesday, July 29, 2009


This is the second week of the 44th session of the Committee on CEDAW at the United Nations headquarters here in our fair city. What, you may ask, is CEDAW? The acronym stands for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and in UN parlance a 'convention' is a treaty. The Committee that is currently meeting consists of 23 'experts' who check up on whether or not countries that have signed or ratified this treaty are operating in compliance with it.

As with so much that the United Nations does, an international treaty offered in the spirit of affirming human rights and denouncing discrimination sounds like a treaty that no one could object to. Indeed, the CEDAW articles affirm women's rights to equal treatment under the law, in education and in the workplace. CEDAW denounces female prostitution and trafficking in women. But, just as the treaty defines equality and lays out the problems, it also spells out the solution. Or, in the treaty's own words, it provides an 'agenda for action' that countries should follow in order to achieve the equality that CEDAW defines for the international community.

One area of concern for some is CEDAW's persistent inclusion of abortion as part of the action agenda it promotes for countries that have ratified CEDAW. Though the word 'abortion' never appears in the treaty, the UN code words for abortion--'reproductive rights,' 'reproductive health'-- do. (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed this code language in April, 2009 when she spoke before a U.S. House committee and said that the Obama administration thinks 'reproductive health includes access to abortion.') The treaty puts it this way: '. . . the Convention also devotes major attention to a most vital concern of women, namely their reproductive rights.' And '. . . .the Convention is also concerned with the dimension of human reproduction as well as with the impact of cultural factors on gender relations.'
Thus, when the CEDAW Committee meets, as they are doing now, countries up for compliance review are, among other things, examined as to whether or not their laws provide access to the supposed 'right' to abortion, even though CEDAW never mentions abortion. An organization that follows all UN activities on abortion and other sanctity of life issues is C-Fam, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. I had the privilege of learning a bit about how CEDAW and treaties like it function while volunteering at C-Fam this past year.

Today and tomorrow, the CEDAW Committee will be reviewing two tiny countries that legally and culturally oppose abortion. They are Tuvalu and Timor-Leste. Tuvalu, in case you haven't heard of it, is the world's fourth smallest country located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia. Tuvalu's 8 or so islands comprise about 25 square km of land with a population of roughly 10,000 people. The Committee is most likely having a field day with tiny Tuvalu because not only does the country consider abortion a crime, but the Tuvaluan constitution does not explicitly guarantee equality between the sexes. (Perish the thought!) From the research I did while at C-Fam, I learned that the Committee has already questioned Tuvalu as to how and when the country plans to amend its constitution on the matter of equality between the sexes. The Committee also wants to know how little Tuvalu plans to change its culture (yes!) regarding some of its deep-seated traditions which don't exactly square with CEDAW's notion of how the world should run. It's fascinating how little tolerance the UN has for multi-culturalism when it interferes with their 'agenda.'

The case of Timor-Leste and CEDAW is also interesting. While at C-Fam, I wrote a piece about the country which I invite you to read here:


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Caritas In Veritate

It would be delinquent to continue blogging without mentioning the venerable and very wise Pope Benedict XVI. It's not only his visit with Obama but also the publication two weeks ago of his first social encyclical, Caritas In Veritate or Charity in Truth.

I do not claim to understand Pope Benedict's writings and I've only read at and about the encyclical. Two passages cited as central to the Pope's message in this encyclical are numbers 15 and 28. In No. 15, he cites the 'strong links between life ethics and social ethics. . . .' Pope Benedict goes on to quote from Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae and writes that,

“a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”
In No. 28, the Pope discusses respect for life. He writes:

When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good.
Benedict was elected pope just three weeks after I was confirmed in the Catholic faith and just a few days after he, still Cardinal Ratzinger at that time, delivered a homily in which he minced no words in speaking of,

'a dictatorship of relativism . . that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the "I" and its whims as the ultimate measure.'
He went on to point out the flaw in modern relativist thought which labels faithfulness to the Church as fundamentalism but sees its own relativistic caroming about from one idea to the next as 'fashionable.'
Having received instruction in the faith in a liberal Catholic church, I despaired as a new Catholic about whether or not the Catholicism of the 21st century had any spine left to it. I was, then, joyfully reassured of the Church's truth and vitality when the same Cardinal Ratzinger who had named relativism for the fakery that it is, was elected pope only a day or so after that homily.

There are a few passages from my own first reading of Caritas in Veritate that I would like to cite. Here in number 52, Pope Benedict explains that truth doesn't come from men but only from God.

Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift. Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be, mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love. . . . That which is prior to us and constitutes us — subsistent Love and Truth — shows us what goodness is, and in what our true happiness consists. It shows us the road to true development.
And in number 75, the Pope writes about the hypocrisy of present-day society towards issues of life and human dignity.

To the tragic and widespread scourge of abortion we may well have to add . . .the systematic eugenic programming of births. At the other end of the spectrum, a pro-euthanasia mindset is making inroads as an equally damaging assertion of control over life that under certain circumstances is deemed no longer worth living. . . . .How can we be surprised by the indifference shown towards situations of human degradation, when such indifference extends even to our attitude towards what is and is not human?

And again, the Pope leaves no stone unturned when he writes in number 51 about our current obsession with the environment while we simultaneously wave away concern for human life.

If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves.
The Pope presented Obama with a copy of Caritas In Veritate along with a copy of Dignitas Personae, a Vatican publication on bioethics. Obama commented that he'd have plenty of reading to do on his way to Ghana, but one has to wonder whether the prosaic and earth-bound Obama will take much away from his meeting with the learned and holy Pope, other than to extract all the political capital he can from the visit.

It's hard to believe that just a little over a year ago, President Bush (a great friend of the Pope according to our own Father Rutler, himself a frequent White House visitor during the Bush years) was greeting Benedict on the tarmac in Washington, D.C., hosting him in the nation's capital and genuinely endorsing the Pope's message to American Catholics. Obama is not much of a friend to faith of any kind let alone Catholicism, but despite his tenure in the White House there is hope. Not the sentimental, flaccid hope of Obama's sloganeering, but real hope, Christ Our Hope, the theme of Pope Benedict's visit to the United States, as you will most certainly recall.

The text of Caritas In Veritate:

The text of Cardinal Ratzinger's homily of April, 2005:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Common Ground on Life Issues?

There may be, among the readers of this humble blog, if indeed you readers are out there, those who think that during his recent commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, Barack Obama posed a genuine invitation to dialogue about differences of opinion on the right to life. During the address, Obama suggested that the two sides work through differences with open hearts and minds and fair-minded words. Well, here is a video link to just such a discussion between two Catholic pro-lifers-- Professor Doug Kmiec, who is an Obama supporter and Professor Robert George, who is not an Obama supporter. Their topic is 'The Obama Administration and the Sanctity of Human Life; Is There Common Ground on Life Issues?'

Doug Kmiec, a Catholic, is Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Kmiec managed to wrest from Catholic teaching a justification for Catholics to abandon one of the central tenets of their faith in order to vote for Obama and his record of anti-life policies.

Robert George, also a pro-life Catholic, is Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and is the director of Princeton's James Madison Program for American Ideals and Institutions. He was also a member of George Bush's Council on Bioethics.

The discussion runs for about an hour and a twenty minutes, but the time flies, particularly when Professor George takes the podium. Kmiec and George each speak for about twenty minutes (with Kmiec going first) and then follows a question and answer period moderated by Mary Ann Glendon, law professor at Harvard and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.

I think that 'casuistry' might be the right word to describe Kmiec's approach to the matter of Obama and abortion. Kmiec first describes Obama as everything he isn't, then comments on the importance of 'intent' and then talks about Obama's committment to limit, not abortion itself, but the conditions which might lead to abortion.

Professor George begins his remarks by noting that while speaking so judiciously at Notre Dame of open hearts and minds, Obama also said that 'the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.' (So much for dialoguing with President Obama!) Professor George points out that for Obama, abortion is no more objectionable than knee surgery, that is, our president is not even 'personally opposed' to killing the unborn and in fact finds it an acceptable alternative to the 'punishment' of having a baby.

But, my notes are a poor substitute for the real thing. So, watch, listen and comment, if you will.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sarah Palin

Here is a great article about Sarah Palin by Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of The New Atlantis.