Did the Catholic Church Sign Millennium Development Goals?

by Brian E. Frydenborg

The Catholic Church did not sign millennium development goals, but it broadly supports it but with some reservations and qualifications. To better understand this situation, it is important to understand what the UN Millennium Development Goals are, how the Catholic Church's international relations system works, what the Church supports, and what its reservations are.

The Millenium Development Goals

The United Nations Building in New York City

Starting in 2000, world leaders at the United Nations agreed to work toward a series of development goals for the world to be achieved by 2015. To achieve this, the UN began the UN Millennium Campaign, which sought to enlist support for the Development Goals, and the Millennium Project, which was a commitment to develop a concrete plan to achieve these goals. Dr. Jeffrey Sachs led the planning, and in 2005 presented it to the UN Secretary-General. Also that year, the World Summit garnered commitments from 170 world leaders, and at one high level event in 2008, over $16 billion committed to the Goals. In 2010, a further $40 billion was promised by governments and the private sector. The Goals are as follows: 1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, 2) achieve universal primary education, 3) promote gender equality and empower women, 4)"reduce child mortality, 5) improve maternal health, 6) "combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, 7) ensure environmental sustainability" and 8) global partnership for development.

The Catholic Church in the International System

For many centuries, the popes effectively ruled as virtual monarchs over certain parts of Italy around Rome and the district known as the Papal States. As Italy emerged as a unified state in the second half of the 19th century, this changed. In 1929, the Lateran Treaty was concluded with Italy, in which the papacy recognized Italian jurisdiction over the Papal States and most of Rome but recognized a new Vatican city sate as a separate, sovereign state. This state is the base for the Holy See, the governmental form of the Catholic Church worldwide run by the pope as head of the church. The Holy See can enter into agreements like any nation, and as its own state it sends a representative to the United Nations, and has done so since 1957. Because the Holy See wishes to remain neutral in many disputes, it chooses not to be a full member of the United Nations, but, instead, a Permanent Observer. It is through this Permanent Observer Mission that the Holy See engages in United Nations events and meetings of the General Assembly. The Holy See has direct individual relations with 177 out of 193 UN member countries. As a non-member state Permanent Observer, it cannot vote so it was not a party to the Millennium Goals as they were adopted by the voting member states.

The Catholic Church's Support for the UN Millennium Development Goals

The Catholic Church in the modern era has been strongly committed fighting against poverty and for social justice and human dignity, and has repeatedly not only offered support but has criticized world leaders for falling short of some of their pledged commitments regarding the Millennium Development Goals. For the church, these goals are a "crucial moral obligation of the international community," and "it is necessary that rich and emerging countries fully realize their aid commitments for development and immediately set up a functioning financial and commercial network favourable to the weaker countries."

The Catholic Church's Support Reservations about the UN Millennium Development Goals

Even though the Holy See broadly supports the UN Millennium Development Goals, it has expressed concern with some goals that are contrary to its teachings on birth control, abortion, and homosexuality, saying that "in the fields of population control and promotion of minority lifestyles...some paragraphs in the recent summit’s document" trouble it. Still, the vast majority of the components of the goals are supported by the Church.

About the Author

Brian E. Frydenborg lives in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. He received his Master of Science in peace operations from George Mason University's School of Public Policy in 2011. Frydenborg also holds a double major Bachelor of Arts in history and politics from Washington and Lee University.

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