The Liberal Party of Canada adopted a resolution at the party’s biennial policy convention calling for decriminalization of euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide in a vote by show of hands.
The resolution said: “Be it resolved that voluntary medically-assisted death be de-criminalized after a public consultation process designed to make recommendations to Parliament with respect to the criteria for access and the appropriate oversight system for medically-assisted end-of-life.”
Delegates lined up on both sides of the issue to debate the resolution. Wendy Robbins, who ushered the resolution through the convention, said assisted suicide “covers health, it covers justice” and that it did not threaten vulnerable people, pointing to Belgium, which just recently extended euthanasia to children, as a good model for “the right to die with dignity.”
In 1077, during a blizzard in January, the Holy Roman Emperor was made to stand barefoot outside of a castle in northern Italy, waiting there at the pleasure of the pope. For three days, Henry IV, who had been deposed and excommunicated by Pope Gregory VII, stood at the gates of Canossa before finally being admitted into the castle where “the chain of the anathema” was lifted and his kingship was restored. Eight centuries before Joseph Stalin sardonically inquired about the number of military divisions the pope controlled, Henry’s humiliation illustrated the real power of the papacy: its sovereign exercise of moral authority – an authority which ultimately proved more powerful than the Communist superpower itself.
In February 2014, however, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child decided that it was high time that the Holy See take its turn in the cold. In a bizarre set of “concluding observations,” this UN committee used the standard of “children’s rights” as an ill-fitting fig leaf to cover a blatant, wide-ranging attack on a number of the Church’s social teachings. The Committee criticized the Church for “denying” adolescents access to contraception; it criticized the Church for accepting abandoned babies anonymously; it criticized the Church for not implementing mandatory ideological school curricula and for condemning homosexual practices – it even criticized the Church for opposing violence against unborn children in the womb.
Leave aside the fact that – from the apostles’ institution of the diaconate for the care of orphans and widows, to the great mendicant orders of the middle ages which embraced voluntary poverty for the sake of the poor, to the latter-day patrons of poor children such as Don Bosco and Mother Teresa – the Christian Church’s long history clearly shows that it has been the greatest humanitarian force the world has ever known. Leave aside, too, the fact that the United Nations comparatively brief history of seventy years has not been unblemished: in the last decade alone, a bloody genocide was carried out in one of its “safe areas” during the Bosnian civil war and the cholera outbreak which followed the recent earthquake in Haiti has been traced back to UN peacekeepers. And even leave aside the fact that members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child hail from countries such as Russia, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia: countries which, shall we say, are not known for their sterling record on human rights, whose occluding planks might well impair their ability to help Rome with her eye’s splinter.
Even if such balancing historical contexts did not cast a cold light on the brazen lecture of these UN apparatchik, the fact remains that no UN Committee would have dared to subject another world religion to such a presumptuous, meandering harangue, nor would any other religious organization have been exposed to such obvious and condescending contempt. What does the freedom of religion – or, for that matter, sovereignty itself – mean to the UN if the most prominent and most symbolic representative of that freedom can be made to endure the preening preaching of a self-important committee in Orwellian legalese?
Neither the hubris nor the historical ignorance of this committee, however, should prevent us from raising another, more vexing question: what is the ideal country imagined by the UN committee’s groundless chiding? What other nation’s policies should the Catholic Church take as an example? Such a nation would be tolerant of homosexual practices; it would have a clear, ideologically inflected educational program; and it would enthusiastically embrace everything implied by the paradoxical euphemism “reproductive health.” The bitter irony of the committee’s critique is that the ideal environment for children which emerges from its petulant report resembles nothing so much as the People’s Republic of China, that nation where religious liberty is viciously restrained and which has, through its infamous “one-child policy,” prosecuted the more systematic, most sexist, and most brutal form of child abuse ever recorded in human history. With defenders such as these, the world’s children need no enemies.
The Vatican – whose past heads-of-state turned back conquering Attila at the gates of Rome and endured Napoleon’s kidnapping – will survive the UN’s censorious finger wagging. And, more importantly, it will continue to exercise its moral authority, continue to assist the world’s children, and continue to advocate for their rights and those of their parents as well – even those rights which the UN itself violates so flagrantly.
No, the pontiff will not walk to Canossa because of this committee’s report; rather, this strange document will simply become more fodder for footnotes in the unfolding story of the United Nations’ slow decline. The end of that story, however, is what should give us pause: will the UN slide further into feckless obsolescence or will it become a vehicle for oppression itself?