The Vatican’s permanent observer spoke at two events highlighting both faith-based and, in particular, Catholic perspectives on international diplomacy ahead of the anniversary of the United Nations’ founding on Oct. 24, 1945.
At a webinar, “The United Nations at 75: Catholic Perspectives,” the archbishop highlighted the overlap in the UN’s founding pillars and Catholic social teaching in promoting peace, the dignity of the human person, better standards of living, and respect for international law.
While every pope to visit the UN has expressed esteem for it as an institution, there “has been a constant papal call for it to be reformed, so that it will meet the hopes that the peoples of the world place in it,” the Holy See’s permanent observer said Oct. 22.
“John Paul II stressed, for example, that the UN must become a true moral center, and Pope Francis that it must become more effective in applying international norms,” he said.
When the UN Charter was first adopted, Pope Pius XII “expressed concern that, rather than being an institution of equality among all nations, it was continuing the wartime alliance among the winning powers and making five countries patently unequal by giving them a permanent veto on the Security Council,” Caccia said.
“He [Pius XII] was also concerned about the fact that the other institutions of the UN -- particularly the International Court of Justice and the General Assembly -- lacked anything beyond the power of persuasion. Their resolutions and decisions might end up being mere exhortations. As most experts on the UN will tell you, Pius XII’s initial concerns have been validated.”
Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, also spoke at the webinar. She said that every pope since John XXIII had met the UN with “a combination of encouragement and praise with words of caution.”
“Even when support for human rights was probably at its highest point in 1989, Pope John Paul II warned that … the Declaration did not have the anthropological and moral basis for the human rights it contained,” Glendon said.
“Those words of caution of course increased in the 1990s as Holy See officials began to express concerns again about the UN itself. There were the tumultuous conferences in Cairo and Beijing, and evidence was accumulating of certain deficiencies in the UN with respect to the deficiencies of all large bureaucracies: transparency, accountability, susceptibility to bias, and susceptibility to co-option by special interests.”
Archbishop Caccia said that the UN anniversary was “an opportunity to look to the past with gratitude for achievements and with humble resolution to learn from mistakes.”
He pointed out that Pope Francis had called for reform of the UN in his most recent encyclical “Fratelli tutti.”
Pope Francis wrote that reform was needed so that “the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.”
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“This calls for clear legal limits to avoid power being co-opted only by a few countries and to prevent cultural impositions or restrictions of the basic freedoms of weaker nations on the basis of ideological differences,” the pope wrote.
The Holy See became an observer state at the UN in 1964. Since then, there have been five papal visits to the UN: by Paul VI in 1965, John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, Benedict in 2008, and Francis in 2015.
Observer states have all of the rights and responsibilities of UN member states except the right to vote, run for office, or sponsor resolutions.
Caccia said that the priorities of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See today were to advocate and work for peace, defend religious freedom, stand up for fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, promote integral development, ensure care for migrants and refugees, and care for our common home.
At the UN, “Catholics are like the leaven in the loaf,” Glendon said.
She emphasized that Catholic thought was brought into the public square in the past by “men and women who were skilled, dedicated, and courageous enough to do so.”