Vatican official rebuts pro-life concerns with recent climate conference

This story appears in the COP 21 Paris feature series. View the full series.

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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The head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences responded frankly this week to criticism that a recent climate change conference collaborated with individuals who have advocated abortion and population control.

Addressing pro-life advocates' concerns that the Vatican partnered with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs at the April 28 summit, Archbishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo first challenged the sources.

"The Tea Party and all those whose income derives from oil have criticized us, but not my superiors, who instead authorized me, and several of them participated," he said in response to emailed questions from Stefano Gennarini, director of the Center for Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights.

Gennarini posted Sorondo's responses in full Monday after stating in a May 14 blog the archbishop had not replied to requests for comment about Sachs and the conference.

The one-day summit on climate change and sustainable development was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, of which Sorondo is chancellor, and brought together leaders in religion, business, science and politics. Both Sachs and Ban spoke at the meeting, with Ban and Pope Francis speaking privately before it began.

At one point, Gennarini asked if Sorondo was aware of positions Sachs, who works with the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, took on abortion in his 2008 book Common Wealth: Economics of a Crowded Planet -- among them, that households in abortion-legal countries have "a lower-risk and lower-cost option" than of places where abortion is illegal. Sorondo replied in part that he had just returned from an Argentine conference on combatting new forms of slavery, such as forced labor, prostitution, and human and organ trafficking.

"Unfortunately, there is not only the drama of abortion, but there are also all these other dramas, in which you should also be interested, because they are closely related. The climate crisis leads to poverty and poverty leads to new forms of slavery and forced migration, and drugs, and all this can also lead to abortion," he said.

In a statement released the day of the summit, Voice of the Family -- a coalition of more than 20 international pro-life organizations -- expressed "grave concern" of Sach's and Ban's participation specifically, and more broadly, of collaboration with the U.N.

"Unfortunately, pro-life and pro-family advocates who lobby at the UN have witnessed the environmental issues become an umbrella to cover a wide spectrum of attacks on human life and the family. These attacks pose an immediate threat to the lives of the most vulnerable -- the unborn, the disabled and the elderly -- as well as grave violations of parental rights," they said.

Sorondo stated that both academies he oversees are against abortion and population control in accord with church teachings. He also noted that the draft U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which could be adopted in September, don't mention abortion or population control and focus on family planning access, reproductive rights and sexual and reproductive health, with their interpretation and application left to governments.

"Some may even interpret it as [Pope] Paul VI, in terms of responsible paternity and maternity," he said. "Instead of attacking us, why not enter into dialogue with these 'demons' to maybe make the formulation better, like we did on the issues of social inclusion and new forms of slavery?"

On climate change, Sorondo said the pontifical academies have maintained for 30 years "that human activity based on fossil fuels determines climate."

While he doesn't know what the pope will say on the subject in his upcoming encyclical, he suspects Francis would support the declaration the emerged from the climate summit, which in part stated, "Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity."

Said Sorondo, "I suppose yes, because he would not write an encyclical just to say that man is responsible for the Earth but that everything is fine! Perhaps, you believe, like those who live off oil, that everything is fine? The Academy says otherwise, as do all the rest of scientific academies in the world. Only a few scientists paid by lobby groups opine differently."

The chancellor encouraged those skeptical of climate science to review documents published on the Pontifical Academy of Sciences website.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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