“We Will Stand Alone!”

An Interview with Archbishop Renato R. Martino

Apostolic Nuncio, 

Permanent Observer of the Holy See 

to the United Nations

By John Mallon

From Inside the Vatican, August-September 1999

"We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine Providence; it is a trial which the whole Church ... must take up."


—From Cardinal Karol Wojtytla's farewell speech after a visit to the United States in 1976, (two years before he was elected as Pope John Paul II), reprinted in The Wall Street Journal (November 9, 1978).

*     *     *

In what has become widely known as "the Culture Wars" in the United States, What Pope John Paul II later called the struggle between the "Culture of Death" and the Culture of Life in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, has become visible at every strata of society for those who have eyes to see it. A particularly unique and crucial battleground in this war, because of it's unique position in the world, has been the United Nations. In particular, a series of conferences, stepped up in the 1990s and dealing increasingly with issues of life and death and who holds power over them; particularly, the discussion of life or death as a "choice" to use the ideological term at the center of the debate. 

At a breakneck pace proposals from organizations of staggering wealth and power such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and its allies, who hold an ideological stance inimical to 4,000 years of Judeao-Christian tradition, are practically forcing positions and policies that call evil good, and good evil through the medium of these UN Conferences. While evident everywhere, it is at these UN conferences, that the prophetic insight of then-Cardinal Wojtytla bears a particular weight and force.

The practice of placing abortion in so-called "rights-based language" has crept into their strategies since the 1994 Cairo conference on Population and Development, and its just completed five-year review, the 1995 Beijing Conference on women, and its upcoming review next year, and the discussions begun in Rome last year to form an International Criminal Court, with further discussion taking place in New York in July of this year. 

Proponents of a radical feminist agenda with Marxist underpinnings attempts to rule (and behave as if they do rule) at these conferences, aided and embodied in influential and wealthy Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) like IPPF, mentioned above. IPPF has insinuated itself into the very sinews of the United Nations Fund for Population and Development (UNFPA). In fact, UNFPA director, Dr. Nafis Sadik is a former member of IPPF, and Dr. Fred Sai, chairman of the 1994 Cairo conference is a former international director of IPPF. 

IPPF openly acknowledges—even boasts—of funding as many as 40 national delegations from the poorer developing nations to attend the conferences, in essence, buying their vote. There are no conflict of interest laws at the UN to prevent this, so these delegations can actually be voting the agenda of IPPF rather than for their own country's national interests.

More directly, IPPF, in effect, declared war on the Catholic Church last May on Ascension Thursday (which coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Fatima) by joining an effort by "Catholics for a Free Choice" (CFFC) to have the Holy See's UN status reduced from Permanent Observer Mission to NGO. Thus far no UN member nations have supported this unprecedented and arrogant initiative. Some speculate that IPPF weighed in to support CFFC, because CFFC's move drew the attention of the formidable Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights who threatened a countermeasure against CFFC's UN standing as an NGO, which was already under investigation due to the alleged roughing up of a Catholic woman journalist at the UNFPA Hague Forum in February, and a Catholic student volunteer lobbyist in New York in March by CFFC staffer Jon O'Brien.

What is at stake in this struggle between the forces of the Church and those who could fairly be described as forces of the "anti-Church" are the most fundamental of principles. It is a primordial struggle, as old as the fall of Adam, and played out with increasing intensity at the end of the 20th Century. 

We discussed this with "the Pope's man at the UN," Archbishop Renato R. Martino, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in his New York office June 24, the day the Preparatory Committee of the Cairo+5 review resumed the negotiations which broke down in March during efforts to reach consensus on a document to be presented to the General Assembly which met June 30-July 2. 

It should be noted that Archbishop Martino has issued a call for more pro-life, pro-family and Catholic organizations to obtain NGO status at the UN and join the battle.

John Mallon: Archbishop Martino, Dostoevsky said, "If there is no God, then everything is permissible" and our Holy Father, John Paul II, has pointed out that when God is forgotten, human dignity gets trampled. In my brief observations at the UN, watching the Cairo+5 process unfold, it appears that beneath all the rhetoric, we've come down to a very primordial struggle, not of state against state—which we always have—but of unbelief against belief. Does this ring true with your observations?

Archbishop Renato Martino: At the end perhaps that's what we have. Because if we deny those values, rooted in human nature, which are put by the Creator in human nature—if those values are denied—we can then say that there is a fight, that there is a struggle between believers and unbelievers. But this fight is not clearly labeled. Because what we see is rather a struggle between spiritual values and exacerbated individualism. And so individualism makes those who seek that individualism say that "Whatever is good for me is rational and ethical." This brings materialism, hedonism, and so on.

Mallon: This fundamental problem affects the very ability to have discussions, if the most basic principles, including the meaning of words, cannot be agreed upon. Isn't that the crux of the problem? Either there is a God who created human life as sacred, or there isn't. If there isn't, then man can dispose of it as he pleases, whether it be unborn children or human embryos, all done with a terrible pragmatism, a pragmatism which unfortunately seems to drive some of our opponents. Is this what we've come to, at this point?

Martino: I think so, yes. As I said, whatever is against the individual is against "me," and so I'm entitled to fight, and say "this is my body," and, that is, "It's me who has absolute control over my body." But without the understanding that a new life is in my body and that I have to respect that life, that individual, who is growing during pregnancy. But with those principles, everybody is okay, because it's "freedom." But don't forget, my freedom ends when the freedom of another human being starts.

In the last few centuries human rights have been defined as coming from God. If you cut God out of the picture, then rights are viewed as man-made and can be changed and manipulated at whim.

Martino: That's absolutely true. If you abstract from the idea of a superior being, all the fundamentals, the basis for those human rights, is gone. And so anything can be ethical, legal, acceptable.

International Planned Parenthood Federation as an NGO has arrogated to itself an almost unprecedented status at the UN. Is there any precedent for any NGO, or member state for that matter, calling for a removal or reduction in standing of another member as they have done against the Holy See?

Martino: I don't recall that ever happening, but I didn't give any particular attention to this pretension of those particular NGOs. I think it's a couple of them, because, you know, they pretend that the Holy See is a religious body, not a state, etc., and I agree with that. But the status of the Holy See is as it is because the international community has accepted this status of the Pope and his headquarters as an international sovereign subject. And this is not something that happened yesterday. It's been 2,000 years that the Pope has accedes this stature, and so these attempts look ridiculous. Just recently in 1992 a declaration of the president of the organization for the corporation for the security in Europe declared that the Holy See is an international sovereign subject, and this characteristic is recognized by the all members of that organization which includes all the states of Europe and North America. It's true that the Holy See is different from the other states, but, because of that diversity, it is accepted because of the role of the Pope over the centuries.

Yes. That's what I meant when I said it's a kind of primordial struggle.

Martino: That is right. I never reacted because I cannot discuss something that is accepted by 176 states, countries who hold diplomatic relations with the Holy See. They know when they enter into diplomatic relations that the Pope is not a state as any other. So, what?

Well, Planned Parenthood has certainly insinuated itself into the very fibers of the UNFPA ...

Martino: But Look, this is a strange way of understanding democracy. If you don't share my point of view, my position, you must get out. Is that a clear sign of democracy?

No. And I have to say what I saw at the Hague is the closest thing I've seen in my life to totalitarianism.

Martino: Oh yes. This is their approach. And they reproach us as if they are acting like a family! Exactly! This looks like Communism. Communist methods in disguise, but they are the ones doing it!

It's funny you say that because in the Hague we were joined by a very courageous and holy Evangelical woman from Russia who ran a Christian school and she said, very seriously, after hearing Mrs. Clinton speak, "She sounds just like the Communists, the same intonations, the same way of speaking."

Martino: This is arrogance, this is just arrogance.

You have been a strong supporter of more Catholic and pro-life participation in these UN conferences. In The Hague there were only about 10 or 15 of us Pro-life NGOs and journalists against 800 of them, because they wouldn't let more of us into the Hague Forum. I must say we had the joy of the Lord and each other, but it was like David against Goliath. Has there been a good response to your call for more Catholic and pro-life participation in this process?

Martino: Oh yes. I have seen that since Cairo, the participation of Catholic NGOs has increased, and they are more articulate, more organized. And again, this does not please our opponents who were the monopoly before—dictating their views to delegations. Also pro-life and pro-family NGOs are active, and this is a good sign.

What we're seeing from the other side strikes me as going against the UN's very founding principles.

Martino: Oh yes, oh yes. The United Nations must be a family of nations. Where everybody, even those with different views can get together and dialogue and come to a consensus. Of course, the consensus is always something that implies that each part renounces something—not the essentials—but something in order to live together and work together. This is the consensus. It is not only one way.

Well, it looks like we've come to the non-negotiables. The other side seems to be trying to push for abortion as a universal human right above national sovereignty, without using those words, and the Holy See . . .

Martino: This is not negotiable because there is the right to life of the human being inside the womb of the mother. This is not negotiable. You don't bargain a person, a human being, for the sake of other people or their positions. Life is the fundamental human right on which everything is based. If you put death ahead of life, everything, the whole building, crumbles.

The question of who chooses whose life is at stake.

Martino:  I was the head of the delegation of Holy See in Cairo. And I can tell you how, since Cairo, we had so many people, delegates, delegations, and other people against us. It was a real suffering for us to see the animosity. I will not mention the hatred of which we were the object, but I will tell you of something that happened in Cairo. 

For instance, during the negotiations towards the end of Cairo, a working group went to draw up a conclusion in favor of abortion and the chairman of the working group started to call upon the delegations that he knew were in favor of abortion. And so it was only at the end—only at the end—that he gave the floor to the Holy See. And of course the Holy See said, "No!" —opposed it. After that, he adjourned the meeting. But he ignored seventeen signs of delegations like-minded with the Holy See who had asked for the floor in order to oppose abortion. And what happened? 

The next day, the headlines of all the papers in the world read "The Vatican Blocks Cairo Conference", "The Vatican Isolated," "The Vatican Alone," etc., etc. 

The day after that, this same chairman had to apologize the way he conducted the meeting and he had to give the floor to the delegations who had asked to be recognized the night before. These are the tricks and methods—dirty tricks—they played against us. They have tried since then, all along, during the other conferences, to push that idea of abortion.

Pope John Paul II in his 1995 address to the UN said, "What is at stake is the transcendent dimension of man. This can never be made subject to the whims of statesmen or ideologies. There is a morality of service to the earthly city which excludes not only corruption, but even more, ambiguity, and the surrender of principles. The Holy See considers itself at the service of this reawakening of conscience." 

Now, as usual, the Holy Father has put his finger right on the real threats occurring at the UN, namely, the whims of ideology, especially radical feminism, ambiguity, and the gross manipulation of language to obscure the abortion agenda. As a result you have the surrender of principles—sometimes unwittingly—by the smaller nations intimidated by the power, wealth and political correctness of the ideologues. How is the Holy See responding now to this considerable challenge?

Martino: We will stand alone, if need be, to defend just what the Pope said. We have seen several countries, although aiming at the same principles we are defending, at the last minute, withdraw from a position the Holy See defended precisely because of political considerations, although they entirely accept the principle defended by the Holy See. But at the last minute they say, "Oh look, we don't want to displease this one, and that one, and that one." And so, for political consideration, they accept ambiguous positions, and they defend an ambiguous position.

Can you foresee a time, perhaps in fifty years or so, when the world will look back at the years of legalized abortion as a dark time, and shakes its head and says, "How could they do it?" as we do now over the years of American slavery and the Nazi Holocaust?

Martino: I can conclude with the words of President Menem of Argentina in accepting the award from the Path to Peace Foundation last week. He said, "I'm sure that we will win, because the truth is with us, because life is the highest principle." And so, I want to give you the text of President Menem. Do you have it? It's beautiful. And I would like you to quote it.

I would like to print the whole thing. I'll just close with this. I heard a beautiful phrase last night from a friend of mine in Europe. We were speaking on the phone and she said, "We must pray for those who have been abused by error and wrong doctrine." That seems to be a big part of our mission, doesn't it?

Martino: By all means. Every time we have to "fight" we don't put hate in our fight. Absolutely not. Because we are trying to make a dialogue between human beings, respecting the dignity of everybody. And so, it's always going to remain in a spirit of Christian understanding and Christian love. This is for sure. We hope that all those who deny this highest principle of life will understand that they are going against themselves, because once you admit that you can kill someone, it's over, it's over. And so that is why we are against capital punishment, we are against abortion, because life is a gift from God, and nobody, but nobody can take it from us.

© 1999, 2007, 2020 by John Mallon




The Interviews