A leaked State Department cable shows that the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is reading Catholic statements on the environment through the lens of population control policy.
The cable, released Dec. 19, is one of hundreds of thousands of unauthenticated U.S. State Department documents being released through the WikiLeaks website.
The Nov. 11, 2009 cable, titled “Pope Turns up the Heat on Environmental Protection,” was apparently signed by U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel H. Diaz.
It explained that Pope Benedict XVI's proposal to curb environmental degradation is to reject “excessive materialism and consumerism.”
“In the Vatican's view,” the cable's author wrote, “unsustainable lifestyles in developed countries--and not population growth worldwide--is to blame for global warming. Vatican officials claim that the planet has the capacity to feed and sustain its expanding population, provided resources are properly distributed and waste controlled.”
The cable noted Vatican officials' past claims that the world's most populous countries were not the ones that released the most greenhouse gas.
“As China and India industrialize and release more greenhouse gases, however, the Vatican may find it more difficult to blame climate change on lifestyles only. Even as this happens, however, the Vatican will continue to oppose aggressive population control measures to fight hunger or global warming.”
The U.S. government has long advocated population control internationally. While recent justifications of population control policy focus on environmental impact, in the 1970s the U.S. National Security Council's National Security Study Memorandum 200 backed population control for different reasons.
That memorandum advocated population control to prevent developing nations from becoming politically powerful, to protect U.S. access to other countries' natural resources, and to limit the number of young people who are more likely to challenge existing social and political norms and cause instability.
The rest of the Nov. 11, 2009 cable focused on the Vatican's view of genetically modified organisms.
While the Vatican's message about caring for the environment is “loud and clear,” its message on biotechnologies is “still low-profile” and only “quietly supportive,” the Vatican embassy cable commented.
It recounted Pope Benedict XVI's Nov. 16, 2009 remarks at the World Food Security Summit in Rome. There, the pontiff called for changes in lifestyle and habits of consumption, linking development to the use of “agricultural technologies.”
The cable author interpreted the last phrase to include biotechnologies, calling the remarks a “small but significant step” towards more vocal Vatican support for the technologies.
On Nov. 11, 2009 the Vatican embassy's political officer had spoken with Msgr. James Reinert, described as the “point person” on biotechnology and food security for the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace.
Msgr. Reinert said that genetically modified crops have a role in increasing agricultural production. However, he reportedly added the Vatican cannot force all bishops to endorse biotechnology, especially if they oppose it due to concerns about corporate profiteering.
The cable noted that some Catholic bishops have been skeptical about the benefits of new biotechnologies. It also claimed that the Vatican's own scientific academy has stated that there is no evidence genetically modified organisms are harmful. Instead, they could play a role in addressing food problems.
This appears to be a reference to a May 2009 study week organized by the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences. However, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi recently emphasized that only seven of the 40 scholars participating in the study week were pontifical academicians. He said the scholars' statement must not be considered a statement of the pontifical academy because “the academy, as such, has never been consulted about it.”
The Vatican Embassy's 2009 cable said it would “continue to lobby the Vatican” to speak in favor of genetically modified organisms in the hope that this would encourage individual church leaders elsewhere to “reconsider their critical views.”
In a Dec. 3 e-mail response to CNA, the U.S. Vatican Embassy condemned the disclosure of the cables and said it cannot speak to the authenticity of any of the documents provided to the press.
Fr. Lombardi has stressed that the cables reflect the perceptions and opinions of their authors and cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See.