Archbishop Renato Martino's Statement on Cairo

Author: STATE


Archbishop Renato Martino

Given on Sept. 13 in a presentation in Cairo, Egypt, to the plenary assembly of the U.N. Conference on Population and Development on its final day.

Our conference, attended by persons of various traditions and cultures with widely differing viewpoints, has carried out its work in a peaceful and respectful atmosphere. The Holy See welcomes the progress that has been made in these days, but also finds that some of its expectations have not been met. I am sure that more delegations share similar sentiments.

The Holy See knows well that some of its positions are not accepted by others present here. But there are many, believers and nonbelievers alike, in every country of the world who share the views we have expressed. The Holy See appreciates the manner in which the delegations have listened to and taken into consideration views which they may not always have agreed with. But the conference would be poorer if these views had not been heard. An international conference which does not welcome voices that are different would be much less a consensus conference.

As you well know the Holy See could not find its way to join the consensus of the conferences of Bucharest and Mexico City because of some fundamental reservations. Yet now in Cairo for the first time development has been linked to population as a major issue of reflection. The current program of action, however, opens out some new paths concerning the future of population policy. The document is notable for its affirmations against all forms of coercion in population policies. Clearly elaborated principles, based on the most important documents of the international community, clarify and enlighten the later chapters. The document recognizes the protection and support required by the basic unit of society, the family founded on marriage. Women's advancement and the improvement of women's status through education and better health care services are stressed. Migration, the all too often forgotten sector of population policy, has been examined. The conference has given clear indications of the concern that exists in the entire international community about threats to women's health. There is appeal to greater respect for religious and cultural beliefs of persons and communities.

But there are other aspects of the final document which the Holy See cannot support. Together with so many people around the world, the Holy See affirms that human life begins at the moment of conception. That life must be defended and protected. The Holy See can therefore never condone abortion or policies which favor abortion. The final document, as opposed to the earlier documents of the Bucharest and Mexico City conferences, recognizes abortion as a dimension of population policy and indeed of primary health care, even though it does stress that abortion should not be promoted as a means of family planning and urges nations to find alternatives to abortion. The preamble implies that the document does not contain the affirmation of a new internationally recognized right to abortion.

My delegation has now been able to examine and evaluate the document in its entirety. Mr. President, on this occasion the Holy See wishes, in some way, to associate itself with the consensus, even if in an incomplete or partial manner.

First, my delegation recognizes the chapter on the principles as a sign of our solidarity with the basic inspiration which has guided and will continue to guide our work. Similarly, it recognizes Chapter 5 on the family, the basic unity of society.

The Holy See also recognizes Chapter 3 on "Population, Sustained Economic Growth and Sustainable Development," although it would have preferred to see a more detailed treatment of this subject. It recognizes Chapter 4, "Gender Equality, Equity and Empowerment of Women" and Chapters 9 and 10 on migration issues.

The Holy See, because of its specific nature, does not find it appropriate to endorse the operative chapters of the document, Chapters 12-16).

Since the approval of Chapters 7 and 8 in the committee of the whole, it has been possible to evaluate the significance of these chapters within the entire document and also within health care policy in general. The intense negotiations of these days have resulted in the presentation of a text which all recognize as much improved but about which the Holy See still has grave concerns. At the moment of their adoption by consensus at the main committee, my delegation already noted its concerns about the question of abortion. The chapters also contain references which could be seen as accepting extramarital sexual activity, especially among adolescents. They would seem to assert that abortion services belong within primary health care as a method of choice.

Despite the many positive aspects of Chapters 7 and 8, the text that has been presented to us has many broader implications, which has led the Holy See to decide not to endorse these chapters. This does not exclude the fact that the Holy See supports a concept of <reproductive health> as a holistic concept for the promotion of the health of men and women, and will continue to work, along with others, toward the evolution of a more precise definition of this and other terms.

The intention therefore of my delegation is to associate itself with this consensus in a partial manner compatible with its own position without hindering the consensus among other nations, but also without prejudicing its own position with regard to some sections.

Nothing that the Holy See has done in this consensus process should be understood or interpreted as an endorsement of concepts it cannot support for moral reasons. Especially nothing is to be understood to imply that the Holy See endorses abortion or has in any way changed its moral position concerning abortion, or on contraceptives or sterilization, or on the use of condoms in HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

I would ask, Mr. President, that the text of this statement and the annexed note formally indicating our reservations be included in the report of the conference.