Archbishop Martino's Statement to the Special
Session of the United Nations General Assembly
From 30 June to 2 July a Special Session of the United
Nations General Assembly was held in New York, USA, to review and appraise the
implementation of the Program of Action of the International Conference on
Population and Development, held five years ago in Cairo, Egypt. At the end of
the session, Archbishop Renato R. Martino, head of the Holy See's delegation to
the Special Session, issued the following statement giving the Holy See's
official interpretation of the document resulting from this Session. Here is the
text of his statement, which was issued in English and dated 2 July 1999.
The Holy See welcomes the progress that has been made in these past few
months in the preparatory process for the General Assembly Special Session
devoted to the overall review and appraisal of the Program of Action of the
International Conference on Population and Development. However, my delegation
finds that some of its expectations have not been met. I am sure that many
delegations share similar sentiments.
The delegation of the Holy See has worked in a constructive way and in a
spirit of good will. My delegation has not failed to point out some serious
concerns regarding this review process, during the preparatory part of the
Special Session as well as during the Session itself.
From the outset, my delegation has constantly reiterated its compliance with
the guidelines set in General Assembly Resolution 53/183, specifically that "the
special session will be undertaken on the basis of and with full respect for the
Program of Action and that there will be no renegotiation of the existing
agreements contained therein". As such, it has not escaped the attention of this
delegation that many other delegations have not followed these guidelines. This
blatant disregard of the General Assembly Resolution has not only tainted the
entire review process, but it has set a dangerous precedent for the work of the
As you well know, the Holy See was able to join, with serious reservations,
in the consensus to the Program of Action adopted at the Cairo conference. The
Holy See continues to hold these reservations.
Despite the positive aspects of the text presented entitled Key Actions
for the Further Implementation of the Program of Action of the International
Conference on Population and Development, the text has many broader
implications. The text departs from the carefully negotiated language of the
Program of Action which balances the needs of adolescents for privacy and
confidentiality with the parental rights, duties and responsibilities enshrined
in Art. 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It contains references
which could be seen as accepting extramarital sexual activity, especially among
adolescents. Also, it would seem to assert that abortion services are a
dimension of population policy and, indeed, of primary health care as a method
of choice. Together with so many people around the world, the Holy See affirms
that human life begins at the moment of conception and that life must be
defended and protected. The Holy See can never condone abortion or policies
which favor abortion.
Nothing that the Holy See has done in this process should be understood or
interpreted as an endorsement of concepts it cannot support for moral reasons.
Especially, nothing is to be understood to imply that the Holy See
endorses abortion or has in any way changed its moral position concerning
abortion or contraceptives or sterilization.
The intention therefore of the Holy See is to welcome this consensus decision
of the Special Session and, accordingly, offer its statement of interpretation,
I would ask that the text of this statement that includes the official position
of the Holy See, as follows, be included in the report of the 21st Special
Session of the General Assembly.
Official Position of the Holy See on the Key Actions for
the Further Implementation of the Program of Action of the International
Conference on Population and Development
2 July 1999
The Holy See, in conformity with its nature and its particular mission,
by welcoming the adoption of the final document of the special session of the
General Assembly for the overall review and appraisal of the implementation of
the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and
Development, wishes to express its understanding of the document entitled Key
Actions for the Further Implementation of the Program of Action of the
International Conference on Population and Development.
1. Regarding the terms "sexual health", "reproductive health" and "sexual
and reproductive health", the Holy See considers these terms as applying to a
holistic concept of health, which embraces the person in the entirety of his or
her personality, mind and body, and which fosters the achievement of personal
maturity in sexuality and in the mutual love and decision-making that
characterize the conjugal relationship in accordance with moral norms. The Holy
See does not consider abortion or access to abortion as a dimension of these
2. With reference to the terms "contraception", "family planning",
"reproductive rights" and "female-controlled methods", "the widest possible
range of family-planning services", "new options" and "underutilized methods",
and any other term regarding family-planning services and regulation of
fertility, the Holy See's welcoming the consensus decision should in no way be
interpreted as constituting a change in its well-known position concerning those
family-planning methods which the Catholic Church considers morally unacceptable
or on family-planning services which do not respect the liberty of the spouses,
human dignity and the human rights of those concerned.
3. With reference to all international agreements, in particular on any
existing agreements mentioned in this document, the Holy See reserves its
position in this regard, consistent with the Holy See's acceptance or
non-acceptance of them.
4. With reference to the term "couples and individuals", the Holy See
understands that this term is to mean married couples and the individual man and
woman who constitute the couple. The document, especially in its use of this
term, remains marked by an individualistic understanding of sexuality which does
not give due attention to the mutual love and decision-making that characterize
the conjugal relationship.
5. The Holy See interprets references to "family" or "families" in the light
of Principle 9 of the Program of Action, that is, in terms of the duty to
strengthen the family, the basic unit of society, and in terms of marriage as an
equal partnership between man and woman, that is, husband and wife.
6. With regard to the term "gender", the Holy See reserves its position with
the understanding that this is grounded in biological sexual identity that is,
the two sexes, male and female.
7. The Holy See reaffirms that the education of "young people", including
"children", "adolescents", "young men" and "young women", including education on
sexual and reproductive health, is primarily and fundamentally the right, duty
and responsibility of parents, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, Art. 26, paragraph 3: "Parents have a prior right to choose the
kind of education that shall be given to their children.
8. With regard to the access of young people", including "adolescents",
"young men" and "young women", to family-planning services and reproductive
health services, the Holy See considers that this is to mean married couples and
the individual man and woman who constitute the couple. In this the Holy See
wishes to give emphasis to the particular aspect of mutual love and
decision-making that characterize the marital relationship.
9. Specifically as regards paragraph 73(a) the Holy See interprets "the
rights of adolescents to privacy, confidentiality and informed consent" in the
context of issues surrounding, inter alia, sexual abuse, violence or
incest. In order for parents to assume their rights, duties and responsibilities
to guide their children, their prior human rights in the choice of the education
for their children must not be abrogated and every effort must be taken by
governments and civil society to assist parents in fulfilling this essential
role. In this regard the Holy See further interprets "respecting their cultural
values and religious beliefs" to refer to the cultural values and religious
beliefs of their parents, that is, until the adolescent attains the age of
majority. The Holy See requests that this interpretation be noted in paragraph
10. With respect to paragraph 63, the Holy See affirms that human life begins
at the moment of conception and that life must be defended and protected. The
Holy See can never condone abortion or policies which favor abortion. The Holy
See further affirms that the right of conscience of health-service providers is
assured by, inter alia, Art. 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. The Holy See requests that this interpretation be noted in paragraph 63.
The Holy See requests that this statement of interpretation be reflected
verbatim in the final report of the 21st Special Session of the General
Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion