Readers of my work will know that I am a great believer in doing what good one can in his immediate realm – given the difficulty of affecting anything at the national level via the vote or any other esoteric process. But now, I’ll ask my readers to direct their attention to the larger scale: it merely the local, state, or national situations – but the international sphere; to begin with, I’d like to take a look at an extremely complicated and endlessly fascinating institution – the United Nations.

It is an organisation that at once attracts and repels. Certainly, successive Pope’s have been enchanted by it. In his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, St. John XXIII unswervingly approved of it: “It is therefore Our earnest wish that the United Nations Organization may be able progressively to adapt its structure and methods of operation to the magnitude and nobility of its tasks. May the day be not long delayed when every human being can find in this organization an effective safeguard of his personal rights; those rights, that is, which derive directly from his dignity as a human person, and which are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable.”  When Bl. Paul VI addressed the body in 1965, his praise for the UN was almost boundless: “Permit us to say that we have a message, and a happy one, to hand over to each one of you Our message is meant to be first of all a solemn moral ratification of this lofty Institution, and it comes from our experience of history. It is as an ‘expert on humanity’ that we bring this Organization the support and approval of our recent predecessors, that of the Catholic hierarchy, and our own, convinced as we are that this Organization represents the obligatory path of modern civilization and world peace.”  So it has been with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.


Indeed, the latter Pontiff, in his  2009 encyclical Caritas in veritate came out very strongly indeed not merely for the UN, but for a huge extension of its role: “In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago. Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good, and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums. Without this, despite the great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations. The integral development of peoples and international cooperation require the establishment of a greater degree of international ordering, marked by subsidiarity, for the management of globalization. They also require the construction of a social order that at last conforms to the moral order, to the interconnection between moral and social spheres, and to the link between politics and the economic and civil spheres, as envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations.” Needless to say, this caused a great outcry among many Catholics and Conservatives.

Why? Because it seemed to line the Holy See up with both the UN (whose bodies do not always pursue agendas Catholics can support, as we shall see) and behind that the spectre of “One-World Government,” which has been a source of great fear for many. But let us look a little more closely at the United Nations, and try to see what it is and what lies behind it.


In its current form, the United Nations Organisation is a continuation of the World War II alliance against the Axis, centred upon the Big Five: the United States, France, Great Britain, the then-Soviet Union, and then-Nationalist China. It acquired a permanent home and structure over the immediate postwar era, absorbing what was left of the League of Nations machinery and other international entities such as the International Telegraph Union in Geneva and the World Court of Justice in The Hague. By 1948, the nascent UN was able to launch its first two peacekeeping operations, in Palestine and Kashmir – both of which continue to this day. Two years later, thanks to the Soviet Union walking out of the Security Council (the UN body that determines upon sending such missions), the rest of the United Nations back the struggle to save South Korea from its Communist northern counterpart – it was a mistake Moscow never again made. From that time on until the end of the Cold War the work of the UN was severely hampered by the rivalry between the two Superpowers – although when they were in agreement, as on the Congo in 1960, the UN could intervene effectively, if not always benevolently. A fascinating look at that era is the autobiography of the Swedish Major General, Carl Von Horn, Soldiering for Peace, which recounts his adventures commanding UN peacekeepers in Jerusalem, the Congo, Yemen, and elsewhere. By the early 1960s, a certain sort of idealism regarding their work had grown up among some of the UN’s officials, most especially the tragic figure of perhaps its best known Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold. The end of the Cold War led to an explosion in the number of peacekeeping missions, as all five of the permanent members of the Security Council were generally in agreement with the need for intervention in the affairs of various “failed states:” as of this writing, there are 16 such missions around the globe, employing 86,481 soldiers wearing the famed “blue helmet,” 13,059 police, and 1,740 military observers, in addition to 16,471 civilians. These are drawn from 123 member nations. In addition, there are UN-approved multi-national missions, such as the anti-piracy actions in the Indian Ocean and the campaign against ISIS in Syria.

Around the World, the United Nations employ 51,484 staff members, who work either at the three UN headquarters in New York, Geneva, and Vienna, or else for such specialised bodies as UNESCO (which supports member states in the spheres of education, science, and culture), the WHO (World Health Organisation), and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation). While the various bodies work closely with both government agencies and the private sector (participation by “Non-Governmental Organisations” – NGOs – is key to their work) in accomplishing their various tasks, the UN is a long way from being the “World Government”  so beloved of Science Fiction writers and futurists. It cannot levy taxes on its members, but must beg for funding; while the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have a great deal of influence in world economic policy, they are not central banks; there is no standing peacekeeping force: for each mission, the Secretary General, having won approval from the Security Council and the General Assembly for the venture, must solicit personnel and funding from the members. Above all, the General Assembly is not elected but a gathering of national ambassadors; it was its transformation from such a model to a directly elected body that made the European Parliament and the EU what they are to-day. To be sure, there are many inside and outside of the UN who would like to see it undergo a similar transformation – and, as we have seen, Benedict XVI seems to hope so. But is the UN a good thing or a bad?


It is a complex issue, not unlike whether the Federal government is a good or bad thing. On the one hand, where peacekeeping succeeds, it has saved the lives of countless people, as have the various UN emergency responses to disasters man-made and natural – often done in concert with the Red Cross, Caritas International, the Order of Malta, and sundry other such groups. The refugee camps for which the UN is far famed have similarly provided basic living – if not much else – for thousands of displaced persons. UNESCO’s World Heritage and Living Heritage programmes have listed and aided innumerable treasures of the world’s built, natural, and folkloric patrimony.

On the other hand, much of the misery the Organisation must combat was fuelled by the rapid pace of decolonisation in the 1960s, which placed millions of unprepared peoples into the hands of local kleptocracies – many of whom continue to uses and abuse their peoples. The irony, of course, is that the European colonial empires were the basis upon which our modern global civilisation is based – they were the ones who laid the telegraph wires across the oceans and build railroads across deserts, jungles, and mountains – to say nothing of introducing medicine and education. To this day, much of the Third World’s crumbling infrastructure was produced by the colonisers, and Kipling’s dictum to such folk to “take up the White Man’s burden, the savage wars of peace; fill full the mouth of famine, and bid the sickness cease…” remains – shorn of racial references – what the UN is trying to accomplish to-day. But while these new countries whose General Assembly’s ambassadors often try to steer the attention of the world body away from their own civil rights abuses and toward the need for more money for their starving, they are far from the worst players in the UN game. Those would be the Western governments, who attempt to saddle said new countries with their own doctrines on gender roles, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and perversion. Adherents of these doctrines are rife in the UN system, and governments that want to force these ideas upon their hapless subjects piously invoke UN resolutions in their favour as their European co-ideologists do the Eurocrats in Brussels, and the Americans their judiciary.


So whence arises the fascination of the Popes with the United Nations?  Two causes, one historical and the other contemporary. Since the time of Constantine, the Popes have looked (and, in days past, often found) temporal rulers who would justly rule, defend their subjects, and keep them fed – in partnership with the Church, whose mission was to save souls, and who knew only too well that the oppressed, frightened, and starving often do not worry about the afterlife. From this desire sprang the idea of Christendom and the Holy Empire notions severely damaged by the Reformation and destroyed by the French Revolution. Still, just as in the wake of the latter debacle, such Popes as Gregory XVI, Bl. Pius IX, and Leo XIII still campaigned for the Catholic Confessional State, they also cited Christendom in their commentary on diplomacy. But then came the World Wars with their attendant horrors, and the successful conclusion of the last at the hands of that most un-Catholic of western nations, the United States.

The Popes from St. John XXIII to Benedict XVI had front row seats for those horrors – and that is essential to understanding their views in this area as in much else. As the Fathers of Vatican II confronted what they considered to be post-war political reality, they made a number of conclusions from what they saw. Benedict XVI discussed this quite succinctly in his December 22, 2005 address to the Roman Curia: “People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution…In the period between the two World Wars and especially after the Second World War, Catholic statesmen demonstrated that a modern secular State could exist that was not neutral regarding values but alive, drawing from the great ethical sources opened by Christianity… it was necessary to give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern State that would make room impartially for citizens of various religions and ideologies, merely assuming responsibility for an orderly and tolerant coexistence among them and for the freedom to practise their own religion.” As it was in the national order, so too in the international order, Just as the hierarchy would no longer seek to revive the Catholic State, neither would it attempt to revive Christendom. In that frame of mind, the enthusiasm of the post-war Popes becomes perfectly understandable.  But as Benedict said further on in the same speech: “In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church’s decisions on contingent matters – for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible – should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself.” By the Pontiff’s own words, therefore, these changes in teaching and method toward both the modern state and the international order need not be accepted as Gospel by faithful Catholic, but must be adjudged by one criterion – was the basis upon which they were changed factually true?  Those of us living in 2016 may well find Bl. Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors more truly fits the world we live in than did those dwelling in 1963.


In any case, the Holy See maintains permanent observers at the United Nations offices in New York, Vienna, and Geneva – and not only intervenes in debates, but routine organises coalitions of nations (usually Muslim and Third World) to defeat various resolutions pushing the modern doctrines earlier alluded to – and often with success. The Vatican efforts are seconded by the permanent representatives of the Order of Malta (and when in New York, you might have a look at the UN parish, Holy Family – the only church where you’ll see the Vatican and United Nations flags in the sanctuary). There are many NGOs of Catholic derivation that are accredited to the different UN bodies – a great number representing religious orders. Not all of these fight for Catholic teaching at the UN – any more than all such “Catholic” groups always lobby for the Faith in Washington. But there are many who do.  Such groups as the Caritas in Veritate Foundation at Geneva, the Centre for Family and Human Rights in New York, and various others work to advance the Catholic message in the UN, and to organise resistance to resolutions enshrining the philosophy of death therein. The International Catholic Centre for Cooperation with UNESCO works with that body on the worthy preservation projects earlier named. What is the value of all of this effort? Given that the UN is such a big part of the world in which we live, as much or as little as the work of the USCCB Office of Government Relations and the Knights of Columbus in Washington, your State Catholic Conference in your own State Capital, or  your diocesan life and justice office in your city.

In truth – other than prayer and donating to Catholic advocacy groups – there is little you or I can do to affect the policies of either these United States or the United Nations.  For the most part, they shall rise or fall, turn to evil or good with minimal intervention from us – though we shall certainly feel the effects in either case. But the process of globalisation itself – which Pope Benedict hopes the United Nations can equitably manage, is a reality that already affects all of us. On one level, as the Pope writes, “Love in truth — caritas in veritate — is a great challenge for the Church in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized. The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development.” But for us as individual Catholics, a sort of intellectual and spiritual globalisation, fuelled by the new technology but nevertheless deeply rooted in Tradition – can help us face the challenges of this brave new world in which we live. It is to that other globalisation we turn our attention to next week.



For more information about Mr. Coulombe



Articles by Charles A. Coulombe

Articles by Raymond de Souza KM

Articles by Avellina Balestri

Articles by Father John Higgins

Articles by Alan Scott

Articles by Richard Metzger

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