by Most Rev. James T. McHugh
November 12, 1999
In a recent intervention at the United Nations on Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children, Archbishop Renato Martino, the Holy See's ambassador to the U.N., called attention to the deterioration of children's rights worldwide. Noting international human rights violations in the sale and trafficking of children, their conscription for military combat, and the displacement of children from their families and homes, Archbishop Martino emphasized that "respect for the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of the family and the role of parents in the formation of children are basic values." These values, he pointed out, are affirmed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the U.N. in 1989.
Archbishop Martino warned that "the abominable crimes committed against millions of children, born and unborn, confirm the fact that, without respecting fundamental values, the family of nations will end by digging the graveyards for the future generations instead of securing for them a bright future." Strong words for a diplomat, especially a papal representative. But the Archbishop's words reflect the position of the Church as consistently asserted by Pope John Paul II and by the Holy See's delegations at international conferences on population and development and on the rights of women, families and children.
Archbishop Martino emphasized that one of the first steps to change the present situation is to reaffirm the dignity and worth of the human person. We must always remember that every child is also a human person, a person created by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. Recognition of the dignity of the person leads to respect for and protection of human rights, especially the right to life from conception until natural death. When the dignity and rights of children are deliberately ignored, "children will not enjoy the safety, security and care which are absolute conditions for their sound growth and development," said the Archbishop.
Much the same is true in regard to respect for the family. The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state." The family was understood to mean an intimate union of a man and a woman, freely entered into, embodying mutual respect and cooperation and including their offspring. Yet, repeatedly, at the Cairo Population Conference and the Beijing Conference on Women, efforts were made to change this established definition of the family so as to include other groupings and social arrangements. Such redefinition of the family would pose many problems, and would clearly be detrimental to children who are entitled to and dependent upon the love and care of father and mother and other family members. Moreover, the traditional concept of the family establishes the foundation for society's responsibility to provide educational, social and economic benefits to each family member, and to provide support for the elderly, sick or disadvantaged.
Archbishop Martino condemned attempts to involve children in armed conflicts, and he called on the international community to "express its resolve to protect [children] from the effects and aftereffects of such conflicts." In some countries, children are the victims of land mines, and they suffer extreme poverty and exploitation, especially lack of food and medicine resulting from long-range and ineffective embargoes such as those against Iraq and Cuba. Once again, the international community, particularly through the United Nations, must find ways to protect and rehabilitate children and give them a sense of security and stability.
And what do we see here in the United States? We see the continued effort to justify abortion as an absolute right of women. Yet every abortion destroys the life of a child. In partial-birth abortion, where the child is killed in the very process of birth, we are faced with the most graphic linkage of the fetus and the newborn baby. Nonetheless, President Clinton twice vetoed a bill that would have banned partial-birth abortion, and he has made it clear that he will veto any similar effort. Further, the United States has been in the forefront of efforts to change the definition of the family and to undermine the rights of parents to educate and guide the formation of their children, especially in the area of sexuality.
In concluding his intervention at the United Nations, Archbishop Martino promised that the Holy See will continue to defend the dignity of every human being from conception on, safeguard the values of the family, and emphasize the role of parents in the formation of their children. As Pope John Paul II told the U.N. General Assembly in 1979: I wish to express the joy that we all find in children, the springtime of life, the anticipation of the future history of each of our earthly homelands. No country, no political system can think of its own future otherwise than through the image of these new generations that will receive from their parents the manifold heritage of values, duties and aspirations of the nation to which they belong and of the whole human family."
Bishop James T. McHugh is Coadjutor Bishop of Rockville Centre and a member of the NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities. He was a member of the Holy See's delegation to the Cairo Population Conference and is an advisor to the Holy See on matters concerning population.