August 26, 2020

Vatican, is there a problem in the International Catholic Migration Commission?

By Andrea Gagliarducci
A view of St. Peter's Basilica and Vatican flag - credit: Bohumil Petrik
A view of St. Peter's Basilica and Vatican flag - credit: Bohumil Petrik

Anne Therese Gallagher was elected President of the International Catholic Migration Commission in March 2018. In that role she is mandated to convene governance meetings of the Commission. She might have some uncomfortable setbacks, however, because of the job appointment she recently received as Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation. This inter-governmental organization, made up of 54 countries that were former territories of the British Empire, advocates for and funds projects focused on gender ideology, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) was established by Pius XII n 1951. The Commission is a confederation composed by the offices for the migration of the Bishops Conference worldwide. Nowadays, ICMC works in more than 40 countries around the globe with staff and programs and continues its networking activities with Bishops’ Conferences.

ICMC works in many fields: it has direct humanitarian operations, boasts a Resettlement Support Center that operates both in Turkey and Lebanon, and deploys protection experts to UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, operations, placing such experts in more than 30 countries. Hundreds of thousands of migrants refugees have benefited from ICMC support during the past 70 years.

Gallagher has a long-standing international career behind her. A scholar, a teacher, and a human rights advocate hailing from Australia, Gallagher taught for 12 years at the Australian National University. She spent more than a decade in the United Nations, serving as Special Advisor to Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland. Gallagher then worked with the South East Nations Association. 

In June 2019, Gallagher was appointed Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation. This position might not be compatible, however, with her role as an ICMC president. Throughout its history, ICMC has enjoyed close working relationships with different Vatican offices.

According to its official website, “the Commonwealth Foundation is an intergovernmental organization established by Heads of Government to support the belief that the Commonwealth is as much an association of peoples as it is of governments.”

The Foundation, the website reads, is “the Commonwealth agency for civil society; a unique, stand-alone organization established by, funded by, and reporting to governments.”

One of the Commonwealth Foundation’s focus is that of gender equality. As shown by the official website, the Foundation funded several projects which advocate for sexual and reproductive rights or foster gender ideology. 

The Foundation funded, for example, a 48-month project in South Africa started in 2019. The project has the goal of “Strengthening the capacity of transgender and intersex persons to advocate for the protection of their rights.”

The Commonwealth Foundation also funded a project named "Increasing access to sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV services for women and adolescent girls".

The project is in partnership with the Association of women living with HIV in Nigeria, Womankind Centre for Women Empowerment and International Community of Women Living with HIV in Nigeria West Africa. 

According to the website’s description, “the project plans to start by building the capacity of WLHIV to advocate for their SRH rights, and training them to document incidences of violations as they occur.”

Furthermore, “by the end of the project, awareness about SRH rights of health care providers and other stakeholders will have been raised, resulting in better access to SRH services by WLHIV. WLHIV in all their diversity will also be better placed to continue to advocate for their rights and to raise the issues that affect them with policymakers and other key stakeholders.”

The Commonwealth Foundation also partnered with KELIN, the Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS. The KELIN is a Ngo that "works to ensure that human rights on reproductive health are integrated into policies, laws, and regulations. We do this by examining gaps at the county and national level and prepare recommendations for how to integrate relevant human rights.”

The Holy See has strongly opposed the notion of sexual and reproductive health rights, which not only advocate contraception but also open the door for the right to abortion. 

The Holy See also has tirelessly fought against gender ideology, and especially a gender-oriented terminology disseminated in the international documents. Pope Francis himself described the gender ideology as demonic. 

Given the circumstances, is Anne Therese Gallagher's position in the Commonwealth Foundation compatible with the fact she is the ICMC president? 

ICMC has labored for many decades, to fulfill its mandate, to restore dignity and inspire hope among refugees and migrants worldwide, as was given to the Commission directly by the Venerable Pius XII, and with special encouragement from then-Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, later Pope and now Saint Paul VI. It would be regrettable if the Catholic identity itself of the ICMC itself might be t put into question if the volunteer President does not clarify her position as Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation. 

After her election as the ICMC president, Gallagher gave an interview to the Australian Catholic Women’s organization and stated that “my election as the first woman to ever lead the ICMC is a milestone. But so is the fact that I was elected on a platform of change and renewal. I found that to be really encouraging”.

“And of course,” she said,  “it’s not just about a woman taking on a role like this, but the laity in general taking up leadership positions in the Church”.

She also stressed that “big change never happens quickly. But even the largest ship can be moved a great distance by shifting the tiller even slightly.

“Much remains to be done but there are positive signs of change - reflecting a shift away from how things have been for a long time and reimagining how they might be done into the future.”

In the end, Gallagher’s situation could be compared to that of Leslie-Ann Knight, who served as Caritas Internationalis Secretary General from 2007 to 2011. 

Her re-application for a second mandate at the helm of the organization got a rejection from the Holy See. 

Among the issues that jeopardized Knight’s race for a second mandate were some problems regarding organizations that joined the Caritas Internationalis Confederation. 

For example, Caritas Internationalis had accepted among the confederation members, the Canadian Organization for Development and Peace. Many pro-life organizations highlighted that the CCODP advocated the legalization of abortion, delivered contraceptives, and supported pro-gender policies. The then general secretary Knight strongly defended the CCODP in a letter addressed to the donors. 

The change at the helm of Caritas Internationalis was followed by the issuance of new statutes for the organization in 2012. The new statutes put Caritas Internationalis under the umbrella of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. They set a series of principles that might have prevented the risk of accepting into the confederation. Other organizations whose policies might be in contrast with the Catholic teaching.

What will the Holy See do now in reaction to the situation of the ICMC President? 

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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