A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Why Rome Supports the United Nations


Qualified Support for the Good It Can Bring About

NEW YORK, 14 FEB. 2004 (ZENIT).

Last year's debate over the U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq left some Catholics wondering why the Church seemed so supportive of the United Nations. How is it, they asked, that an organization that promotes abortion, artificial birth control and radical feminism is viewed so favorably by the Church?

In fact, the Church has criticized the United Nations on numerous occasions, particularly on family-related themes. But it also has a long history of support for the organization. John Paul II recently reaffirmed this. "The Holy See," the Pope said last Saturday in his words of welcome for the visit of Julian Robert Hunte, president of the U.N. 58th General Assembly, "considers the United Nations organization a significant means for promoting the universal common good."

The Holy Father's message for World Day of Peace on Jan. 1 laid out in clear terms the Church's position in favor of international cooperation, including a key role for the United Nations.

In a broad historical sweep John Paul II noted how over the centuries a body of law and agreements has slowly developed. "Law favors peace," he wrote in part No. 5 of his message. The document also drew attention to the importance of respecting international accords, "especially at times when there is a temptation to appeal to the law of force rather than to the force of law."

A clue to understanding the Pope's thinking comes in the following part, which refers to the founding of the United Nations after World War II. "That war, with the horrors and the appalling violations of human dignity which it occasioned, led to a profound renewal of the international legal order."

John Paul II developed this point at length in a message published May 8, 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war's end. "From the cruel contempt for people's dignity and rights there was also born the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 50th anniversary of the United Nations, being celebrated this year, should be an occasion for consolidating the international community's commitment to the service of peace" (No. 13).

In the years following the U.N. founding, "the ideas and expectations of the immediate postwar period" were often frustrated due to political divisions, violent conflicts and terrorism, the Pope noted in his Day of Peace message. Yet, he insisted that the United Nations, "even with limitations and delays due in great part to the failures of its members, has made a notable contribution to the promotion of respect for human dignity, the freedom of peoples and the requirements of development, thus preparing the cultural and institutional soil for the building of peace."

Reforms encouraged

Certainly, the Pope is not unaware of U.N. failings. In fact, the greater part of last Saturday's remarks made to the General Assembly president focused on the need for reforms. "You have undertaken a restructuring aimed at making the organization function more efficiently," John Paul II told Hunte in a note of encouragement.

John Paul II also recalled a part of his speech during his Oct. 5, 1995, visit to the United Nations in New York: "The United Nations organization needs to rise more and more above the cold status of an administrative institution and to become a moral center where all the nations of the world feel at home and develop a shared awareness of being, as it were, a family of nations" (No. 14).

This desire for an institution where moral principles can guide international affairs provides a second major clue to understanding why John Paul II and other Vatican figures support the United Nations.

In his 1995 U.N. speech, the Pope warned of the dangers of a utilitarian approach to world politics and economics. Such a doctrine "defines morality not in terms of what is good but of what is advantageous," he said. And this approach "threatens the freedom of individuals and nations and obstructs the building of a true culture of freedom" (No. 13).

Utilitarianism, he continued, "often has devastating political consequences, because it inspires an aggressive nationalism on the basis of which the subjugation, for example, of a smaller or weaker nation is claimed to be a good thing solely because it corresponds to the national interest."

John Paul II returned to this theme in his Jan. 13, 1997, address to the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. "What the international community perhaps lacks most of all today is not written conventions or forums for self-expression there is a profusion of these! but a moral law and the courage to abide by it" (No. 4).

The community of nations, he continued, "must be regulated by a rule of law, valid for all of them without exception." This law "has a strong moral implication," he said. International law, moreover, should be founded on values such as the dignity of the person and the rights of nations. As such, international laws are thus moral principles before they become juridical norms.

War and peace

John Paul II went on to call for an international order based on moral principles "which are diametrically opposed to that law which would see the stronger, the richer or the bigger imposing on others their cultural models, economic diktats or ideological models."

"For a long time international law has been a law of war and peace," he observed. In the future, "I believe that it is called more and more to become exclusively a law of peace, conceived in justice and solidarity. And in this context morality must inspire law; morality can even assume a preparatory role in the making of law, to the extent that it shows the path of what is right and good."

It was in this sense that the Pope's call for a "new international order," in No. 7 of the World Day of Peace message, must be understood. Baptizing a concept introduced over a decade ago by the first Bush presidency, John Paul II reiterated his call for the United Nations to become a "moral center" and "a family of nations."

In supporting the United Nations, John Paul II follows in the footsteps of a predecessor. Paul VI, in a speech before the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 4, 1965, stated: "You are establishing here a system of solidarity that will ensure that lofty civilizing goals receive unanimous and orderly support from the whole family of nations, for the good of each and all." Paul VI criticized, however, a negative aspect of the United Nations, namely, its promotion of artificial birth control.

Such qualified and reasoned support of U.N. programs will likely continue even if some observers would prefer to give priority to short-term results, instead of the longer-term goals the Holy See is aiming for. ZE04021403
 

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