Vatican official at UN decries 'attacks' on Catholic beliefs

By Benjamin Mann

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Republic of Italy President Giorgio Napolitano greets Archbishop Silvano Tomasi at the 16th Session of the Council of Human Rights. Credit: Jean-Marc Ferre

A Vatican representative to the United Nations spoke out today against “attacks” on freedom of conscience and religion, directed against Catholics and others who hold traditional beliefs about sexual morality and human nature.

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi spoke out in a March 22 meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, calling attention to what he described as a “disturbing trend” in debates over social life and human rights.

“People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behavior between people of the same sex,” Archbishop Tomasi told the council.

“When they express their moral beliefs or beliefs about human nature, which may also be expressions of religious convictions, or state opinions about scientific claims, they are stigmatized, and worse – they are vilified, and prosecuted.”

The archbishop stated that these attempts to silence Catholics, and other critics of homosexual practice,  were a human rights violation according to the council's own standards.

“These attacks contradict the fundamental principles announced in three of the Council’s resolutions of this session,” he pointed out.

“The truth is, these attacks are violations of fundamental human rights, and cannot be justified under any circumstances.”

The archbishop's remarks came as the council revisited the subject of “sexual orientation” as a human right, a subject that has caused tension between the Vatican and the U.N. in the past.

Church officials do not support the criminalization of homosexual activity. However, they fear that the concept of a universal right to “sexual orientation,” under certain interpretations, could lead to international action against Christians and others who regard homosexual acts as immoral.

“There has been some unnecessary confusion about the meaning of the term 'sexual orientation,' as found in resolutions and other texts adopted within the U.N. human rights system,” Archbishop Tomasi noted in his March 22 remarks.

But he pointed out that the term “sexual orientation” refers properly to “feelings and thoughts, not to behavior” – a distinction he said was especially important to make, in order to avoid the complete deregulation of all sexual behavior.

“For the purposes of human rights law, there is a critical difference between feelings and thoughts, on the one hand, and behavior, on the other,” Archbishop Tomasi explained.

“A state should never punish a person, or deprive a person of the enjoyment of any human right, based just on the person’s feelings and thoughts, including sexual thoughts and feelings.”

“But states can, and must, regulate behaviors, including various sexual behaviors. Throughout the world, there is a consensus between societies that certain kinds of sexual behaviors must be forbidden by law. Pedophilia and incest are two examples.”

While countries should not attempt to regulate thoughts or feelings, he said, they must avoid regarding sexual behavior as something completely private, and not subject to any restriction.

“Human sexuality, like any voluntary activity, possesses a moral dimension,” said the archbishop.

The Vatican representative explained that those who deny the voluntary and moral character of sexual acts – by treating them, instead, as inevitable expressions of an “orientation” – are actually undermining their own claims about human freedom and dignity.

Archbishop Tomasi also reiterated the Vatican's position on human sexuality –  which the Catholic Church regards not only as an article of faith, but as a universal matter of natural law.

“Human sexuality is a gift that is genuinely expressed in the complete and lifelong mutual devotion of a man and a woman in marriage,” he stated.

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