Thoughts and Faith to Share

The Millennium Development Goals and the Critical Next Step for the Catholic Church
by Fredi D'Alessio
[see updates noted at the end of this post]

[This article first appeared in the Dec 1, 2006 issue of Catholic San Francisco, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Those who are unfamiliar with The Millennium Development Goals, the Point 7 Now! Conference, and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, who delivered the keynote address at the conference, should read Conference seeks to mobilize U.S. Catholic community in efforts to end global poverty in the Nov 3rd issue.]

The Millennium Campaign (MC), an initiative of the United Nations, “inspires and encourages people’s involvement and action for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”

On its website, the MC claims that improving the sexual and reproductive health of men, women and young people is essential for achieving all of the MDGs and that governments should “ensure universal access to reproductive health by 2015,” as a target to measure progress towards achieving the MDGs at the national level, as well as in international and regional forums.

The MC further suggests that non-government organizations (NGOs) working in the areas of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights, environmental sustainability, gender equality, development and other issues related to the MDGs, should develop a common strategy to ensure that sexual and reproductive health is integrated into community, regional, and national-level campaigns and initiatives so as to achieve the MDGs.

But what exactly is meant by "sexual and reproductive health" when used in this context at the United Nations? John Mallon, contributing editor for "Inside the Vatican" magazine, sums it up this way. "The first thing that strikes an objective reader in Adding it Up: the Benefits of Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health Care, by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), is the presupposition that 'sexual and reproductive health' is a good thing. Normally, any kind of health is self-evidently a good thing but, as defined by AGI and their allies at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), 'sexual and reproductive health' consist of pouring huge quantities of contraceptive chemicals and devices into the world along with so-called 'safe' abortion. 'Health' in this sense, consists in disabling the reproductive system rendering it, in fact, unhealthy. This is frequently done in opposition to the cultural, moral and religious values of the peoples concerned, rendering these programs not only imperialistic but in some cases tyrannical."

The Millennium Project (MP), which was commissioned by the United Nations Secretary-General and is headed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, stresses that expanding access to sexual and reproductive health information and services is a “quick win,” a cost-effective action that can put countries on the road towards achieving the MDGs. The MP recommends that universal access to reproductive health services be added as one of the targets of the MDGs under Goal 5, so-called “To improve maternal health”.

At the request of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN Millennium Project identified practical strategies, which it describes in Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals. This document underscores the importance of sexual and reproductive health for the attainment of the Millennium Goals.

In his February 2006 forward to Public Choices, Private Decisions: Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffery Sachs says the document takes these arguments further and presents the evidence of the relationship between sexual and reproductive health and each of the Millennium Goals. And that “it underscores the urgent need to increase investments in improving the access to SRH information and services, particularly for the poor. Otherwise, the MDGs cannot be met.” Mr. Sachs closes with: “I am grateful for their important work and recommend this report to all who are interested in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes that will make it possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”

More evidence that Jeffery Sachs is committed to expanding access to sexual and reproductive health information and services is contained in a paper commissioned by the Population Program of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in 2004 titled Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals: The Missing Link:

Sachs and relevant team members say that they will put the emphasis back on women and women’s reproductive rights where these are essential factors. Allan Rosenfield, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University said that he would not have joined the project under any other circumstances. “When Kofi Annan asked Jeff Sachs to put together a team project, and asked me and a couple of people here to co-chair the maternal and child health task force, we immediately said, The only condition [under which] we’ll do it is if we build reproductive health back into it,” Rosenfield said. “Jeff said, Yes, I have a commitment from the SG that we can do that.”

So what should the critical next step be for the Catholic Church? I would suggest that the Catholic Church demand the exact opposite commitment from Jeffery Sachs, the UN and all of its associated campaigns, projects and initiatives before engaging any further in a relationship with these parties.

The international arm of SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) has a paper on its website titled The Underlying Millennium Development Goal: Universal Access to Reproductive Health Service. This paper reports that 110 international NGOs, in an effort to explicitly incorporate SHR in official MDG processes, urged the UN Secretary-General to include specific language on the importance of SHR to the achievement of the MDGs.

Again, the Church must demand the exact opposite. She must insist that specific language be included in all documents pertaining to the achievement of the MDGs stating that there is not to be any degree of support for expanding access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, including family planning and contraceptive information and services, as an MDG goal or target, either directly or indirectly.

The Church must state her position clearly and emphatically. She must be faithful to her mandate to represent the Way, the Truth and the Life, her very Lord and Master, Christ Jesus. It is through Him that She must find ways to share the goods of creation, which He destined for the whole human race.



440. The Church is a companion on the journey towards an authentic international “community”, which has taken a specific direction with the founding of the United Nations Organization in 1945. The United Nations “has made a notable contribution to the promotion of respect for human dignity, the freedom of peoples and the requirements of development, thus preparing the cultural and institutional soil for the building of peace”.[909] In general, the Church's social doctrine views positively the role of intergovernmental organizations, especially those operating in specific sectors.[910] However, it has reservations when they address problems incorrectly.[911]
The Magisterium recommends that the activity of international agencies respond to human needs in social life and in areas of particular importance for the peaceful and ordered coexistence of nations and peoples.[912]

[Note 911]:

  1. John Paul II, Message to Nafis Sadik, Secretary General of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (18 March 1994) See excerpts below.
  2. John Paul II, Message to Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (26 May 1995) See excerpts below.

  • John Paul II, Message to Nafis Sadik, Secretary General of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (18 March 1994):

4. Development has been and remains the proper context for the international community's consideration of population issues. Within such discussions there naturally arise questions relating to the transmission and nurturing of human life. But to formulate population issues in terms of individual "sexual and reproductive rights", or even in terms of "women's rights", is to change the focus which should be the proper concern of governments and international agencies. I say this without in any way wishing to reduce the importance of securing justice and equity for women.

5. .... Abortion, which destroys existing human life, is a heinous evil, and it is never an acceptable method of family planning, as was recognized by consensus at the Mexico City United Nations International Conference on Population (1984).

6. To summarize, I wish to emphasize once again what I have written in the Encyclical Centesimus annus: "It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life - the gift of God - can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life. Human ingenuity seems to be directed more towards limiting, suppressing or destroying the sources of life - including recourse to abortion, which unfortunately is so widespread in the world - than towards defending and opening up the possibility of life" (n. 39).

10. ...For example, the international consensus of the 1984 Mexico City International Conference on Population that "in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning" is completely ignored in the draft document. Indeed, there is a tendency to promote an internationally recognized right to access to abortion on demand, without any restriction, with no regard to the rights of the unborn, in a manner which goes beyond what even now is unfortunately accepted by the laws of some nations.
None of the issues to be discussed is simply an economic or demographic concern, but, at root, each is a matter of profound moral significance, with far-reaching implications. Accordingly, the Holy See's contribution will consist in providing an ethical perspective on the issues to be considered, always with the conviction that mankind's efforts to respect and conform to God's providential plan is the only way to succeed in building a world of genuine equality, unity and peace.

  • John Paul II, Message to Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (26 May 1995):

7. The Beijing Conference will undoubtedly draw attention to the terrible exploitation of women and girls which exists in every part of the world. Public opinion is only beginning to take stock of the inhuman conditions in which women and children are often forced to work, especially in less developed areas of the globe, with little or no recompense, no labour rights, no security. And what about the sexual exploitation of women and children? The trivialization of sexuality, especially in the media, and the acceptance in some societies of a sexuality without moral restraint and without accountability, are deleterious above all to women, increasing the challenges that they face in sustaining their personal dignity and their service to life. In a society which follows this path, the temptation to use abortion as a so–called "solution" to the unwanted results of sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility is very strong. And here again it is the woman who bears the heaviest burden: often left alone, or pressured into terminating the life of her child before it is born, she must then bear the burden of her conscience which forever reminds her that she has taken the life of her child (Cf. ibid. 14).

A radical solidarity with women requires that the underlying causes which make a child unwanted be addressed. There will never be justice, including equality, development and peace, for women or for men, unless there is an unfailing determination to respect, protect, love and serve life – every human life, at every stage and in every situation (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, 5 and 87). It is well known that this is a primary concern of the Holy See, and it will be reflected in the positions taken by the Holy See Delegation at the Beijing Conference.

9. Madame Secretary General, it is my hope and prayer that the participants in the Conference will appreciate the importance of what is to be decided there, and its implications for millions of women throughout the world. A great sensitivity is required in order to avoid the risk of prescribing action which will be far removed from the real–life needs and aspirations of women, which the Conference is supposed to serve and promote. With Almighty God’s help may you and all involved work with enlightened mind and upright heart so that the goals of equality, development and peace may be more fully realized.


Blogger Fredi said...

Addendum: I believe we need to advocate for a new MDG and renumber the others making the new one the first and fundamental goal. That MDG should emphatically charge the worldwide community to respect and protect every human being's right to life from conception to natural death. Let's face it, the agenda to promote legal abortion and contraception worldwide will not cease.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States, said in the general debate of the recent 62nd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, "We must work to stop and reverse the culture of death embraced by some social and legal structures that try to make the suppression of life acceptable by disguising it as a medical or social service." Thus, the MDG I proposed above should be the foundation for all the others.

The Archbishop added, "In this sense, the abolition of the death penalty should also be seen as a consequence of full respect for the right to life." The proponents of population control desire to invoke the sentence of death upon all unwanted (by them) children in their mothers' wombs and suppress the lives of those as yet not conceived.

October 12, 2007 2:30 PM