20 May, 1994 page 5

By PATRICIA LEFEVERE Special Report Writer-Analysis

NEW YORK — It was no secret that the upcoming International Conference on Population and Development, to be held in Cairo, Egypt, in September, was shaping up to be a face-off between the Vatican and almost every other state over the issues of human reproduction. A gloves off preview took place during the third preparatory committee session known as PrepCom3 — held at U.N. headquarters here from April 4-22.

Not only was the Vatican delegation chided by the committee chairman when it asserted that the ICPD's Final Draft Document lacked “moral vision," but it was daily pilloried in news conferences, at several meetings held by nongovernmental organizations and in the independent daily circulating at the United Nations, The Earth Times.

An Earth Times cartoon strip portrayed John Paul II as “the popelator ..... rescuing the unborn from the infertility infidels" and cast Msgr. Diarmuid Martin as a winged messenger of the "Holy Seemen” who remained “contra contraception." Martin, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, headed the Holy See's 10-person delegation to the conference.

What lay behind the ridicule? Was all the criticism proof — as the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights asserted — that the conference was “poisoned with the toxin of anti-Catholicism?” Or was the Holy See guilty of duplicity as charged in a full-page Earth Times ad signed by more than 200 diverse groups on six continents? “The Vatican claims to defend life while at the same time opposing the measures necessary to save women's lives, including modern contraception, condoms, safe abortions and women's rights," it read.

From the opening of PrepCom3, Martin said the Holy See had three reservations about the draft document: an individualism with adverse implications for the family, a call for giving contraceptives to youth and support for abortion. The pope had made his opposition to the document known in a March 18 meeting with Nafis Sadik, director of the U.N. Population Funds.

Later he called a meeting of all diplomats accredited to the Vatican, conveying to them his “extreme disappointment” with the text and following this with a letter to world leaders indicating its faults. On the final day of the conference, John Paul telephoned President Clinton, informing him of his anxiety over Cairo's proposed 20-year plan of action.

Before that call, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn spent four days in Washington briefing U.S. officials on the pope's concerns. During all the diplomatic maneuvering, New York's Cardinal John O'Connor led the attack at home, devoting his weekly Catholic New York columns of April 7, 14 and 21 to stinging attacks on U.S. population policy, which he characterized as “ideological imperialism" stemming from a “messianic obsession" with controlling world population.

Those the United States wished to control, he wrote, are “the black poor, the brown poor, the Latino poor, the Asian poor, the African poor, the Middle Eastern poor." O'Connor, the pope and even feminist activist Bella Abzug, a former member of Congress from New York, found that the U.N. document lacked explanations of how developed nations can lower their consumption patterns so that the poor can obtain life's necessities.

Ideological ties did not line up neatly into East-West or North-South lines as they'd done at other PrepComs. Instead battle lines were drawn with the Holy See and the eight Central and Latin American nations in its corner — joined at times by Iran and Turkey — opposed by the United States and its supporters in Europe and across much of the Third World.

Martin complained that the Holy See's team of 10 was outgunned by the U.S. delegation, which was 30 strong. He said the Clinton government had striven to have abortion inserted throughout the 87-page document and access to abortion was an integral part of U.S. population policy.

Vatican objections to many sections of the text has meant that such terms as "sexual reproductive rights," “fertility regulation,” "reproductive health" and "safe motherhood" have been bracketed and will have to be voted on in Cairo. In the final days of PrepCom3, the Holy See withdrew its objections to the word condom, not because it now approves of condoms, but "because we didn't want to delay the debate," Bishop James McHugh of Camden, N.J., told NCR. "Our primary concern has been with the sweeping statements made about condoms as a primary preventer of AIDS," said McHugh, a member of the delegation and a veteran of the previous Bucharest, Romania, and Mexico City population summits. Pointing to a recent poll among gay men in Philadelphia, the bishop said that there is abundant evidence — even among a well-educated population who knows it is at risk — that condoms won't prevent AIDS.

McHugh said the Holy See objected to the term "fertility regulation" because it “masked" the inclusion of abortion as a means of regulating birth. "Safe motherhood" was another term that did not relieve the "ambiguity about abortion" that he said pervaded the document.

In comparison to the 1984 Mexico City summit, where the Reagan government backed the Vatican's abortion objections and withdrew aid from organizations that included abortion under family planning programs, State Department counselor Timothy Wirth rated PrepCom3 a success. "This was the first time in 12 years that we separated abortion and the population question and didn't let them tear each other up," said Wirth, who will head the U.S. Cairo delegation.

Repeating what he called the "Clinton mantra," he said, "abortion must be safe, legal and rare." Wirth told NCR that he had expected to be picketed at the United Nations, but instead "met with a phenomenal outpouring of support and concern" from women's groups, nongovernmental organizations and the press.

Success was hardly the Holy See's take on PrepCom3. Martin indicated that “no progress was made" and said the document would go to Cairo with its flaws intact. He urged Catholics worldwide to lobby their national delegations to oppose the text, which supports gender equality, education and empowerment of women as keys to population stabilization.

But several Catholics said that they felt their Catholic constituents at home would be alienated by reports of the Holy See's intransigence. Former priest Juan Maria Carron, a Paraguayan senator who will head his nation's Cairo team, said that Paraguay will not vote with the Vatican, but "in our own ethical and national interests."

Delois Blakely, deputy mayor of Harlem, said, “It's time for the pope to send for me, to consult with me about the real world.” The former Franciscan nun told NCR that she works daily with the problems of teenage pregnancy and urban overpopulation.

During PrepCom3, Catholics Speak Out announced its plan to launch a global campaign against the church's ban on contraception. In an open letter to John Paul II, to be published on the eve of the Cairo summit in ‘The New York Times’, Catholics Speak Out states,

Currently, the letter is being circulated worldwide for signatures.

With four months remaining, the road to Cairo looks rocky. Whether the Holy See will cleave more tenaciously to its stand or be prepared for compromise remains to be seen. In the view of Dartmouth University demographer Donella Meadows, there's little time left to argue or to decide "who goes first" on a planet whose carrying capacity is being stretched beyond bounds daily.

“If God were to write across the sky in Cairo, 'You shall reduce your population. You have 100 years to do it or I will smite you,' “ Meadows wondered aloud how the church and other opponents of the Cairo agenda would react.

In her view, the only response is to become "extremely compassionate and determinedly fair." That means educating women and men, providing the technology for good water and sewage, eliminating poverty quickly — not leisurely - and reducing waste dramatically, she said.

The U.N. document lacked explanations of how developed nations can lower their consumption patterns.

* END QUOTE * National Catholic Reporter 20 May 94 page 5 *