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Religious threats to Human Rights

Savita Halappanavar’s death shows how a system which ostensibly permitted abortion to save the mother’s life failed to protect her from the conscientious objection of her caregivers.”  — Elizabeth Prochaska, barrister and founder of Birthrights

Ireland, where Savita died needlessly, is not the only European country where a doctor's right to conscientious objection can trump a woman't right to life. According to a complaint accepted by the Council of Europe in 2014, the government of Italy has also failed to ensure that women can get the abortions that they are entitled to by law. It has not guaranteed the adequate presence of non-objecting medical personnel in all public hospitals. And in the developing world it's worse, far worse. There "faith-based organisations" (FBO) use government money to provide much of the health care and many of them offer only the services they approve of to only the people they approve of  in clear violation of human rights. Watch the video on how this works, Development Aid: What You Need to Know and read the report from Catholics for Choice.

The Vatican rejects human rights that don't accord with its own doctrine.

In a quiet admonition to theologians, the Vatican doctrinal watchdog, the CDF, states that “The freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent. [...] One cannot then appeal to these rights of man in order to oppose the interventions of the Magisterium.” [1] In other words, the Vatican only recognises “human rights” which are actually a part of Catholic doctrine. These they call “authentic human rights” and ignore the rest. [2]

However, the Vatican is careful not to reject human rights openly. Instead it attempts to undermine them in three main ways.

♦  By making one human right cancel others

“Freedom of religion”, when treated by the Vatican and others as an absolute, can end up violating other kinds of rights, as when “conscientious objection” is used to try to end access to abortion and contraception. [3] But no one's no religious freedom can be absolute. The European Court of Human Rights tries to balance religious freedom with other rights.

♦  By inventing “group rights”, like “family rights”, which conflict with individual rights

In 1983 the Vatican issued a Charter of the Rights of the Family which defines a family as based on a marriage that conforms to  Vatican doctrine, with no divorce, no contraception and no same-sex marriage, (“indissoluble” and “open to the transmission of life”). So if anyone tries to assert any human rights that conflict with Vatican doctrine, it can claim that this violates its self-proclaimed “rights of the family”.

Naturally the Vatican wants nothing to do with the inclusive definition of a family, recommended at a UN forum:

Forms of families include, but are not limited to: single parenthood, same-sex couples, traditional temporarily separated, displaced, child-led, or -headed, divorced, cohabitating, fostered, grandparents raising children, couples without children, migrants, extended families, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered.... [4]

♦  By rewriting the list of human rights

The Vatican wants to trim the list to deny that access to family planning and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of gender (including gay marriage) are human rights. [5] At the same time, the list is to be expanded in line with the Vatican’s aim to “protect life from conception until natural death”. [6] This new “fetal right to life” has already been enshrined in the constitutions of the Dominican Republic, Hungary and most of the states in Mexico. The Vatican is also trying to get recognition for what it calls the “natural family”, a patriarchal setup where there is no birth control. In the name of “parental rights” the Church opposes both the religious and sexual self-determination of young people. [7] In other words, human rights are to be rewritten so that they faithfully mirror Vatican doctrine. [8]

♦  By claiming that “human rights” depend on God, (whose will is made known by the pope)

Leo XIII claimed that "man's rights spring from his duty toward God" (#28). This makes human rights, depend, in practice, on the Church because it claims to carry out God's will. In other words, Church doctrine trumps human rights. If the Vatican were to say simply: “Skip human rights and just obey the Pope” few would listen. However because the Vatican redefines human rights in terms of “transcendent dignity”, “natural law” or “true freedom” people tend to lose the thread and be impressed. [9]

However, the basic idea behind human rights is simple: they’re not given to you by anyone or anything and therefore entail no obligation. They're yours just because you’re a person and, as such, have certain needs. (Other creatures, of course, have different needs. [10]) By contrast, the Church bases its version of “human rights” ultimately ― whether by way of its own “natural law” or its own interpretation of the will of God ― on Vatican doctrine.

And how much support does Vatican doctrine have, among the faithful? Not much. An international survey by Univision shows that large majorities of Catholics around the world support the use of contraception and access to abortion care. In these critical issues of social justice and public health, the Vatican simply does not speak for the faithful. [11]


How anti-contraception groups hijacked the Russian health service

(2014-02-18) In Russia the Vatican-Orthodox alliance to boost population faces a problem in clamping down on contraceptives and abortions. The Russian health system still ensures access, and women regard this as their right. With few private clinics, the US activists’ strategy of legal harassment and intimidation won’t work. So a bottleneck had to be introduced into the state hospitals. “Abortion counselling” has been designed to make women feel like murderers.

Using abortion to ban contraception

The real target of the Vatican's anti-abortion campaign is family planning. The Vatican defines any reliable method of contraception as either "abortion" (as with the pill) or as "anti-life", (as in the case of condoms). It's a fancy theology of unrestricted breeding. Yet it didn't have to be this way, and in the 1960s it even looked as if Catholic theology would be interpreted to allow the pill.

Vatican-Orthodox alliance to boost population

After convincing the Evangelicals to join its pro-life campaign, the Vatican has managed to get the Orthodox Church on board, too. The Orthodox Church is the world’s second largest Christian communion after the Catholics. And the one-time communist KGB agent, Prime Minister Putin, has also signed on to the Vatican population policy. This page gives background for How anti-contraception groups hijacked the Russian health service.

Religious law vs. human rights: child brides

Sharia isn't the only kind of religious law that permits child brides. Until 1929 Church of England ministers could marry 12-year-olds in Britain. And until 1983 a quiet loophole in Catholic canon law permitted priests to marry off brides of 12, as well. Now the minimum age allowed by the Vatican for young girls to marry is 14.

How faith-based social services do an end-run around human rights

In the US and UK human rights remain on the law books, while religious organisations take over more and more state functions and are exempted from having to observe any human rights that they object to. This applies to religiously run schools, hospitals, social welfare agencies and prisons. Even state institutions like the military, not run by religious groups, have to fund increasing numbers of chaplains.

Vatican attack on human rights through Canon Law, diplomatic immunity and other dodges

The Vatican doesn't acknowledge human rights unless they are in accordance with Church doctrine. Its courts have been found by the EU to violate the right to a fair trial. And the Vatican has even admitted that its signature to one of the few human rights treaties it has signed (and even then with “reservations”) only applies to its own territory and not to the Catholic Church.

Conscientious Refusal of Care: Vatican hobbles competing clinics

The Vatican forbids birth control and abortion services in Catholic hospitals and tries to prevent them being offered elsewhere. It even stands to profit from its moves to get the United Nations and national governments to cut off funding for birth control and abortion to competing clinics, since that removes their competitive advantage. For an example of this worldwide strategy, follow the health dollars in the US.

To cut off human rights at source, religious lobby targets Europe from two sides

In a pincher movement, clerics use their right of prior “consultation”, to influence the laws of the EU, while organised grassroots campaigns to put voting pressure on EU lawmakers. However, “far too often, these religious lobbies do not accurately represent the interests or beliefs of a majority of adherents to their faith, nor do they promote the common good.”

French baby's human rights cause confrontation with Pope

The new baby caused a classic collision between a secular state and a theocracy: No, Your Holiness, she is not a baptised Jewish baby who belongs to the Church. She is a tiny citizen of France and has the rights of any other Frenchman....

Warnings from the EU stall the Slovak concordat

Human rights must trump Church doctrines, says report of European Union lawyers. Medical professionals should not have an unlimited right to impose their beliefs on others by refusing to provide contraceptives, perform abortions, etc. — in cases where this effectively denies a patient treatment which is allowed by law. When the EU experts said that this treaty between Slovakia and the Vatican could violate international human rights, the concordat was put on ice — but not shelved

The Rights of Man reach an Ivorian village

How can people come to see as a problem those parts of their own traditions which trample on human rights? An appeal to something more important than cultural or religious tradition is a revolutionary idea. This account captures people's excitement on first hearing about human rights. The women of the Côte d'Ivoire today show what it must have felt like to people in Europe two centuries ago, as they made the thrilling discovery: "We have rights!"

Canon Law in action: Were the Papal States a “perfect society”?

One night in 1859 in the pope's kingdom his police raided a Jewish home. In accordance with one of the “sacred canons” and at the pope's behest, they kidnapped the family's six-year-old. Almost a century later, at the end of WWII, in accordance with the same Church law, the Vatican refused to return baptised Jewish children to surviving relatives. Canon law still gives the final say to the bishop, not the parents, and to its own rules, not civil law.

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