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
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."
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
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!
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.