February 13, 2014
A Misguided UN Committee: A Challenge to be Faithful
In Rome, under the present site of the Church of St. Clement, close to the Coliseum, a tourist can visit one of the largest temples dedicated to the god Mithras ever built in Italy. In the 1
st century A.D., Rome introduced this Persian deity to its citizens. The discovery of hundreds of inscriptions to this foreign god and 75 sculpture fragments confirm his popularity, especially among soldiers. The acceptance of this foreign god is but one example of Rome’s attitude towards religion.
In the Roman Empire, religious tolerance reigned. Conquered nations had their gods and goddesses added to the pantheon of Rome’s deities. As early as the 5
th century before Christ, the Romans accepted the Greek god Apollo as worthy of worship. Even the religion of the Jews, with its central tenet of monotheism, was tolerated. But not that of the Christians. Why not? Why were Christians persecuted?
There were 54 emperors who ruled Rome between 30 and 311 A.D. Twelve of them were vehement in their persecution of Christians. Between the first persecution under Nero in 64 A.D. and the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., Christians suffered for their faith. For a total of 129 years, they were despised, banished to work as slaves in the mines, executed with the swift blade of the sword or mercilessly, as public sport, in the grip of wild animals. Why?
Why could Rome accept all religions except Christianity? Why could Rome not tolerate faithful Christians? The answer? Refusal. Christian martyrs refused to accommodate the truth of the faith to the false tolerance of Rome. There is one God and one God alone. Rome’s pantheon was a hollow shrine. No rhetoric of persuasion, no threat of punishment, no fear of death could shake the martyrs’ love of the truth. The first Christians were persecuted for professing the truth. Their adherence to it often meant death.
Today, Catholics are not being persecuted for their belief in one God and in Jesus as Lord. No. Instead, they are being labeled as intolerant and outside of the mainstream for their adherence to the moral truth of the faith. Modern persecution is more subtle than the Roman brand, but just as lethal. To hold to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church often makes Catholics the subject of ridicule and attack.
Since the 4
th century, the Church has been working to foster diplomacy. She works to be a leaven for dialogue, reconciliation, and healing among nations. She has acquired expertise over the centuries. By her moral teaching, she contributes much wisdom to many civilizations. She upholds the dignity of the human person by calling humanity to the truth that God has imprinted upon creation. Today, the Catholic Church has diplomatic relations with 177 nations.
The Holy See holds the position of a permanent observer to the United Nations. The Church strives, in this capacity, to go beyond the national interests of any one country and to speak directly to the consciences of diplomats and leaders. The Church looks to promote dialogue and ensure peace. However, in working with the United Nations, the Church now finds herself under attack for her moral teaching.
In its February 5, 2014 press conference in Geneva, the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child denounced the Church’s moral teaching on abortion. This committee advised the Catholic Church “to review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls and to amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.”
What a contradiction! A committee set up to defend the rights of children now advocating for the destruction of the most vulnerable children, those safe in the womb of their mothers and waiting to take their rightful place at the banquet of life.
The same UN Committee for the Rights of the Child directed the Church “to access the serious implications of its position on adolescents’ enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and overcome all the barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality…” The committee further castigated the Church for her position on same sex unions. It even went as far as to charge the Church’s consistent moral teaching on human sexuality as contributing to the social stigmatization of and violence against gays.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer at the UN in Geneva, responded to these accusations with clarity and courage. He said that the Church “cannot …give up certain teachings that are part of her deep convictions and also an expression of freedom of religion.” He underscored the fact that, what the Church holds essential for the common good of society, e.g. the sacredness of life, the gift of marriage and the beauty of human sexuality, the Church can never renounce.
The UN is a secular institution. In telling the Church to adjust her moral teaching to accommodate today’s society, the UN is clearly overstepping its authority. It is actually infringing on the religious freedom of the Church to teach the faith. In fact, this call by the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child for the Church to change her teaching is part of a continuing quest to marginalize the influence of the Catholic Church on culture.
Catholics are being criticized, marginalized, ridiculed and maligned for holding to the truth of the faith on moral issues. The early Christians did not retreat from those who opposed their faith. They faced persecution for professing the faith. Will we be as courageous and faithful?