The following letter from Archbishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS), is a response to an article written by Stefanno Gennarini. The format of the letter was a paragraph-by-paragraph response to the article, and thus for clarity, we have reproduced the relevant portions of the original article, with Archbishop Sorondo's responses in bold, which reflects the format of his letter.
Last month, Jeffrey Sachs and Ban Ki-moon, arguably the most powerful proponents of abortion and population control in the world, were offered a platform at the Vatican during a conference on climate change. I asked the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS), Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who helped coordinate the event, what he thought of the criticism directed at the Vatican as a result. His replies were a surprising mixture of indictments of the tea party, the oil industry, and the small pro-life organization I work for. Most surprising of all is what he had to say about “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” in U.N. policy. He is the first Vatican official who interfaces with the United Nations to openly defy the position the Holy See has held on these terms for over thirty years because of their association with abortion.
MSS: You attribute too much importance to me. The vital thing is what the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, did, of which I am only the Chancellor. Our meeting concerned other topics and both the Academies, and myself, did not, and do not, in any way, challenge or dissent from the position of the Holy See in relation to abortion, which—and I want to strongly underline this point—we follow completely. As for myself, I repeat, so that there can be no misrepresentation of my words, that, adhering to the fifth commandment, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (“From its conception, the child has the right to life. Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a ‘criminal' practice (GS 27 #3), gravely contrary to the moral law, the Church imposes the canonical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life.” n. 2322), I have always spoken out in my ministry as a Catholic priest and bishop against abortion. For this reason, I invite you to read my published works. Perhaps, indeed, before commenting on my views, it would have been advisable for you to inform yourself on those views through a consultation of my writings on the subject (which I would have been happy to give you). Lastly, at this meeting the Academies and the participants addressed the questions of climate change and modern slavery. For this objective reason, one cannot affirm that a “platform” was offered for the voicing of pro-abortion views and to assert this goes against the truth. If you want confirmation of this, please consult the videos of the meeting which you will find on our website. As you can see, we conceal nothing.
I also point out that within the Holy See there are institutions which, because of their tasks, address abortion and related questions. Pope Francis requested the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to organize the study of modern forms of slavery and related questions, and not other subjects.
Sánchez Sorondo brushed aside all concerns with the terms. “The draft Sustainable Development Goals don’t even mention abortion or population control.” They speak of access to family planning and “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,” he wrote. He is wrong. “Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,” as defined by the U.N. General Assembly at the Cairo and Beijing conferences in the 1990s, include abortion as a “basic health service.” That definition stands to this day, and is incorporated by reference in the U.N.’s new development goals. Sánchez Sorondo further justifies his lack of concern for using this tainted expression noting that the “interpretation and application of these (terms) depends on governments.” While it is true that any particular country may exclude abortion in its own definition of reproductive health, this is irrelevant so long as the term includes abortion by definition in U.N. policy.
MSS: It is most important to be clear on this point. The U.N. does not adopt abortion as a basic right. In some countries abortion is legal, in others illegal, and the U.N. definitions and advocacy do not try to impose any consensus on this issue. Item 8.25 of the ICPD Action Plan states: “Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process.” As the U.N. does not adopt abortion as a basic right, when the phrases “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” are used by the U.N. they cannot be necessarily interpreted as meaning an advocacy of abortion. It is clear that a Catholic may use the phrase “reproductive health” without it being interpreted as including abortion. For example, in March 2009 Pope Benedict declared: “I must also mention a further area of grave concern: the policies of those who, claiming to improve the ‘social edifice', threaten its very foundations. How bitter the irony of those who promote abortion as a form of ‘maternal' healthcare! How disconcerting the claim that the termination of life is a matter of reproductive health,” where he clearly implies that there is a reproductive health that does not accept abortion. Thus, the phrase “reproductive health,” like the phrase “family planning,” can have a meaning in line with Catholic teaching. Of course we would like to hope that the U.N. in its policy will follow the social doctrine as a whole of the Church and we pray that one day we will convince the people of the world that abortion is an evil.
The Holy See has always spoken for all unborn children irrespective of what country they are in. That is why every time the terms come up in U.N. negotiations, the Holy See has always asked for their deletion, and, failing that, has registered strong reservations to resolutions that include the terms.
MSS: It can be taken for granted that here we adhere totally to the position of the Holy See and we have the same strong reservations about these phrases when they are used in line with a certain ideology, but this does not mean we cannot invite the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Professor Sachs, who is his advisor on the Millennium Development Goals, to offer views to us on another topic where they agree with the position of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
The views expressed by Sánchez Sorondo are especially perplexing in light of the cooperation of PAS with Sachs and Ban Ki-moon specifically on “climate change” and “sustainable development.” When the logic of these theories is carried out to their full extent they inevitably collide with the Church’s teaching on abortion and population control.
MSS: It is not logical to affirm that if one is against climate change and modern slavery one is necessarily in favor of abortion and population control with methods that are against Catholic ethics. You will be aware that there are methods of regulating births and of population control that are approved by the Church. As you will know, these Pontifical Academies adhere to the social doctrine of the Church and the Catechism which speak of responsible parenthood, according to the methods that the Church considers morally acceptable.
Sachs is apparently the heir of John Malthus and Paul Ehrlich. He has described legal abortion as a low-cost and low-risk intervention to eliminate “unwanted” children. He fought the Holy See on sexual and reproductive health for the better part of the last fifteen years. And leveraged his position at the United Nations and Columbia’s Earth Institute to propagate an ideology that says our planet has a limited caring capacity and therefore countries must achieve “rapid fertility reduction” in order not to “transgress planetary boundaries.”
MSS: Professor Sachs informs me that he does not agree with this portrayal of his views. However, I would like to point out that in his campaign for the preferential option for the poor and social inclusion he often cites the social doctrine of the Church. He has said that he believes that Pope Francis' mission and Evangelii Gaudium offer a crucial pathway to a more decent world, and he has written and spoken frequently in support of Pope Francis's mission and teachings. He is also a U.N. leader in helping to formulate the SDGs that we want to improve, and in this he follows the stance of the Pontifical Academies on climate change and modern slavery. Moreover, he regularly quotes Populorum Progressio by Paul VI as a source of inspiration for his interpretation of “sustainable development.” The lessons that Paul VI gave to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences prefigured the concept of sustainable development: “The scientist must be animated by the confidence that nature has in store secret possibilities which it is up to intelligence to discover and make use of, in order to reach the development which is in the Creator’s plan.”
This means investing billions of dollars to convince poor rural women in Africa to use contraception, and “voluntarily” sterilizing millions of indigent women in India under sometimes lethally unsanitary conditions. Just to make sure countries take the bait, Sachs also says that “rapid fertility reduction” leads to a “demographic dividend,” even though countries in South America and the Middle East that have taken this bait, hook, line and sinker, have yet to see any dividend materialize, and are now quickly running into a demographic deficit.
MSS: The Magisterium of the Church, to which the two Pontifical Academies adhere, is very clear on these policies. These topics did not form a part of the discussions of the Academies at our meeting.
For his part, Ban Ki-moon, who sponsors Sachs’s work on sustainable development, has gone where no U.N. Secretary General has gone before. Last year he openly instructed U.N. officials in war torn areas to promote legal abortion, when countries are most vulnerable and reliant on the support of the United Nations to rebuild their institutions and legal systems. While the U.N. bureaucracy has always been pro-abortion, and actively so, their actions were never under the cover of an unambiguous directive of the top U.N. bureaucrat himself.
MSS: Again: the Magisterium of the Church, to which the two Pontifical Academies adhere, is clear on the question of abortion, in this context as well. I take note that in the document you cite forced abortion is included under the heading “Conflict-related sexual violence” where it is affirmed that “depending on the circumstances, it could constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, genocide, torture or other gross violations of human rights.”
According to the logic of Jeffrey Sachs and Ban Ki Moon, reducing fertility can cure poverty, hunger, sickness, and many other ailments that afflict humanity. But poor people in rural Africa who want large families—the main targets of Sachs and the Secretary General—are not “transgressing planetary boundaries” or causing climate change. They are exercising their God-given right to freely marry and found a family.
MSS: I refer again to the Magisterium of the Church with which you should be familiar. The Catechism declares: “The state has a responsibility for its citizens' well-being. In this capacity it is legitimate for it to intervene to orient the demography of the population. This can be done by means of objective and respectful information” (n. 2372). It also declares: “The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means” (n. 2399). Therefore, even when spouses wish to have a large family, they must take into account these two statements. As Pope Francis says, it is not true that “in order to be good Catholics, we should be like rabbits.” He mentioned a woman who was expecting her eighth child and had already had seven caesarean births: “this is a form of irresponsibility. . . .God gives you the means, be responsible.” Of course, he also spoke against the ideological colonization of Africa by the West. And, of course, we also fully agree with him on this. But there are other forms of ideological colonization. One need only think of human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution and organ harvesting – in short, modern slavery. It deeply troubles the conscience to think of all the unaccompanied minors who die when trying to cross into countries such as the U.S. and Europe without any kind of international legislation to ensure their safety.
There are many Catholic organizations, including heavyweights like Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, and CAFOD, that address new forms of slavery, social justice, and many other worthy and important causes. Their work is essential.
MSS: And they are all valuable partners of ours in this fight. Unfortunately, however, this is not enough. Declaring modern slavery a crime against humanity provokes resistance: people are often prepared to acknowledge its existence in the world but not in their own countries, regions or cities. Therefore, we are trying to get the U.N. to condemn modern slavery in a joint declaration with the Academy.
The small organization I work for is one of very few that engages international institutions on abortion and population control. We are up against a multi-billion dollar sexual and reproductive health establishment—a veritable global abortion lobby—and always look forward to the moral clarity of the Holy See at U.N. headquarters, as do many governments. I hope this lasts.
MSS: I think this is very good and of course no one would criticize you for it. You were the one who criticized us because we invited the views of the U.N. on other topics even though Paul VI considered the U.N. “the obligatory path to modern civilization and world peace” and St. John Paul II repeatedly affirmed that we should work with the U.N. If the Holy See did not want this cooperation to continue, it would have to withdraw its Permanent Observer to the United Nations. Of course this does not mean, and cannot mean, that we support everything the U.N. says.
The principle is clear: to cooperate with or to cite internationally recognized institutions and authors does not mean to endorse everything they say or do. St. Thomas Aquinas cited some ideas and formulations of Aristotle as authoritative, even though Aristotle accepted abortion. This does not mean that St. Thomas Aquinas was in favor of abortion. Pope Benedict XVI cited some fine thoughts of Nietzsche, but nobody considers Pope Benedict a nihilist. Following your principle, no cooperation or dialogue would be possible with anyone who does not hold the same beliefs as the Church, and thus, inter alia, no ecumenism, as established by the Second Vatican Council, would be possible either, nor even the Court of Gentiles founded by Benedict XVI. I need not remind you of Aquinas’s principle of the double effect (S. Th., IIª-IIae q. 64 a. 7 co).
Our intention was to obtain the positive effect of having the U.N. declare modern slavery a crime against humanity and reversing climate change. And I do not think this cooperation can have so negative an effect as to obscure or weaken the Church’s stance against abortion. The teaching of the Church on abortion is very clear and well known. On the contrary, the problems of climate change and human trafficking are not well known and certainly those economic interests that have become rich thanks to forced labor, fossil fuels, etc., turn their backs on them.
I do not want to judge your intentions but it might be thought that you are criticizing us on the topic of abortion, which we have never dealt with, to discredit our stance on climate change and modern slavery. I invite you to remember the words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Thus, given that you deny the reality of climate change caused by human activity, I also invite you to sign the Declaration against modern forms of slavery that emerged from our deliberations.