He Stood Up to the World; Britain's Sex Ed Fight

Cardinal Martino Defended Life, Family at UN

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By Edward Pentin

ROME, FEB. 25, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino is perhaps best known here as the former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a position he held from 2002 until earlier this month.

But before coming to Rome, he spent 16 years as the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations in New York. During that time, the Vatican diplomat led numerous campaigns in which the Holy See successfully lobbied against, among other things, global advocacy of abortion and a redefinition of the family. It was for these enormous achievements that he was honored at a Rome dinner on Feb. 12.

"Your negotiating instructions [may] have come from John Paul the Great," pointed out Austin Ruse whose organization, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, hosted the event. "But carrying out those instructions fell to you and to the strength and guidance you gave to your remarkable negotiators, some of whom sit at this table and in this room tonight."

"It is a hard and nearly impossible thing to stand up to what sometimes seems like the whole world, but you never did cave in," Ruse explained. "It is a testament to your steadfastness that over the years our opponents did not get what they wanted. They wanted an international right to abortion and they lost because you stopped them. They wanted a redefinition of the family and they lost because you stopped them. They wanted to say that gender was a social construction and not based in nature and they lost because you stopped them. It would have been easy and even plausible to give in and to go along, but you never did that, and for this we stand up for you tonight."

Ruse, who couldn't make the event because of bad weather, said in his message that his organization had received over 2,000 tributes to the cardinal from all over the world. "Thank you Cardinal Martino on behalf of all the babies that you have saved by opposing abortion and the universal right to abortion at the United Nations," read one tribute. "God will reward you richly for the crosses you had to carry." Another read: "You are an inspiration to us all, you are a hero, you are truly Jesus' heart, his will and his hands and feet on this earth."

One of Cardinal Martino's negotiators, Christine de Vollmer, recalled how the then archbishop "really put the Holy See on the map at the United Nations," transforming it from being "a mere observer" to becoming "a real mover at the United Nations." History, she said, will say "this was a very, very good man sent by a very great Pope."

Another negotiator, Jean Head, referred to a famous quote from the American pro-life politician Henry Hyde, saying that when Cardinal Martino reaches the Final Judgment, there will be a chorus of voices "that have never been heard in this world" who will say to God: "Spare him because he loved us."

Cardinal Martino, who is currently writing his memoirs, recalled how constant efforts have been made to overturn a ruling banning advocacy of abortion as a method of family planning since he and his negotiators helped to stop them at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994. Each time, he said, the pro-abortion lobby tried to include wording that would open the door to abortion, "and they could not do it."

Cardinal Martino stressed he could not have achieved these breakthroughs without the help of his skilled negotiators and, above all, the help of God. "We did it," he said, "but as instruments of the Lord."

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In the Name of Diversity

Catholics in England might like someone of Cardinal Martino's caliber at the moment.

This week, the U.K. parliament voted to pass an amendment to a bill that, according to the government and an agency of the Catholic Church, will allow faith schools to teach sex education according to their religious ethos.

But pro-life organizations and many orthodox-thinking Catholics say the amendment is deceptive and misleading, as it will still require all schools, including Catholic schools, to give information about contraception, abortion, and homosexual partnerships in the name of equality and diversity. The government's education minister, Ed Balls, seemed to admit as much on a BBC radio program on the day of the vote.

"They can explain the views of their faith," he said, "but what they can't do is say that they are not going to teach children about contraception, how to access contraception, or how to use contraception." He added that what the bill changes is that for the first time "these schools cannot just ignore these issues or teach only one side of the argument."

Teachers in faith schools, he said, will have to teach "different views on homosexuality, they cannot teach homophobia, they must explain civil partnership and must give a balanced view on abortion. They must explain both sides of the argument and how to access an abortion. The same is true on contraception as well."

Faith schools will, therefore, now be obliged to instruct young girls on where to kill a child in their womb, say pro-life organizations. They also say there are many other aspects to this legislation which will "advertise" to pupils pro-abortion messages, mandate the teaching of lurid sexual material, and ultimately lead to the further "sexualization of children." As one observer put it: Catholic schools will from now on be coerced by the state’s concept of ‘neutrality’, to present as ‘choice’ what hitherto has "not been a choice; to give pupils the options as though they were all morally equivalent; to promote what has traditionally been judged to be ‘sin’. It is facilitation under the guise of information."

But the Catholic Education Service, the agency which has worked with the government on the bill and which is governed by the bishops of England and Wales, supports the legislation. It insists that the teaching of all aspects of the curriculum in Catholic schools "reflects their religious ethos," and that sex education "will be rooted in the Catholic Church's teaching of the profound respect for the dignity of all human persons."

This hasn't placated pro-life organizations, some of which feel "utterly betrayed" by agency's stance. One group said the new curriculum "is going to put conscientious Catholic teachers, parents and young people in an utterly invidious position." So far, only Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, president of the Scottish bishops' conference, has spoken out on the Church's behalf against this week's vote on the bill. The bishops of England and Wales are expected to comment once they reach an agreement on a way forward but some suspect they wanted the amendment passed just in case the bill cannot be defeated.

Some priests and laity see this legislation as the fruit of decades of dissent within the Catholic Church in Britain. And both inside and outside the Church, this bill is being viewed as flagrantly opposed to the natural moral law which governments are supposed to uphold.

Benedict XVI reminded the bishops of England and Wales earlier this month that such legislation which restricts religious freedom "actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded." He then urged them to ensure that the Church's moral teaching "be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended." Fidelity to the Gospel, he said, "in no way restricts the freedom of others -- on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth."

The legislation will now head to the House of Lords where much hard work is expected to ensure the bill is defeated.

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Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at: epentin@zenit.org.