Action Alert!

Meet the New Generation of Catholic-Inspired NGOs

by Terrence McKeegan, J.D.


This article profiles five recently-formed NGOs (non-governmental organizations), whose missions are explicitly Catholic or compatible with Church teachings on human dignity: Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS), Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ), Institute for Family Policies European Network (IPF), and International Solidarity & Human Rights Institute (ISHRI).

Larger Work

Inside the Vatican


62 & 65 – 66

Publisher & Date

Urbi et Orbi Communications, New Hope, KY, April 2008

The work of international organizations like the United Nations and their effect on local and national institutions and policies has increased exponentially in the last 20 years.

This has raised many new (and sometimes difficult) issues for Catholics worldwide, but at the same time it has provided a greater platform for the Church, through the representation of the Holy See, to magnify its voice on critical issues including life, family, bioethics, human sexuality, poverty, and religious freedom.

Mega-conferences such as Cairo (on population and development) in 1994 and Beijing (on women's issues) in 1995 radically changed the landscape of the international scene, particularly that of the United Nations. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) would now play a much more visible and prominent role in shaping international human rights law. Radical liberal NGOs who represented the interests of the abortion lobby, drug companies, health providers, and other big corporations attempted to insert language into international documents that was a direct attack on traditional values as espoused by Catholic social teaching.

The UN became the favorite forum to push new concepts, often coded in ambiguous terms like "sexual and reproductive health," ideas which they usually could not pass in their own countries. In response to this new and grave threat, many organizations were formed in the last two decades which have had a strong presence at the UN and international organizations to defend Catholic values, assist the work of the Holy See, and to combat the proliferation of radical language and documents that could later become part of customary international law.

The Catholic Church recently recognized the growing importance of the international organizations as it organized the first-ever Vatican forum for Catholic-inspired NGOs late last fall. About 90 NGOs were invited to this forum in Rome, which was attended by most of the highest-ranking officials in the secretariat of state, and included an important address from Pope Benedict XVI (see sidebar). In his address, His Holiness took note of the newly created NGOs and their important work.

Taking part in this important meeting are representatives of groups long associated with the presence and activity of the Catholic laity at the international level, along with members of other more recent groups which have come into being as part of the current process of global integration.

Below are profiled five of these newer NGOs which are either explicitly Catholic organizations or whose mission is compatible with Catholic social thought and emphasize the Church's teachings on human dignity.

Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS)
Founded in 1992; accredited with ECOSOC in 2003

The SCSS is comprised of about 400 academics, professionals, and scholars in nearly every discipline, including political science, law, history, medicine, and psychology. Two of the main projects of the Society are its annual conference and its annual scholarly journal. The most recent Society conference, which was held at St. John's University School of Law last fall, was the largest conference in the history of the school and featured a panel of authors of white papers on international organizations and issues. The Society has been very active at the United Nations since 2004, reflecting their Catholic inspiration and mission of responding enthusiastically [to] Pope John XXIII's injunction that "Christians . . . conform their behavior in economic and social affairs to the teachings of the Church."

Responding to a request for help from the Holy See Mission, the Society was very involved in most of the drafting sessions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and addressed the UN several times on life and family issues relating to that treaty, which came into force in 2007. While most of the SCSS members are in the U.S., there are also a number in Europe, and there is a very active chapter in the Philippines. The SCSS has launched an M.Th. program in Catholic social thought through tutorial and online studies and a "Catholic Social Thought" book series, and recently published an Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy. One of the most prominent members of the Society, Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, has just begun her term as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM)
Founded in 1997; has not sought accreditation with ECOSOC

John Paul the Great called laymen of all faiths to help him fight the pro-abortion lobby at the Cairo Conference in 1994, and then at the Beijing Conference in 1995. Hundreds answered the call each time, had great success, and then went home. It became obvious that the promotion of abortion and the devaluation of the natural family were going on every day at UN headquarters in New York, so the Holy See Mission made a call that a full-time office of Catholic laymen be opened at UN headquarters in New York. In the summer of 1997 the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (CFAM) was created specifically to answer that call.

In the last ten years C-FAM, led by President Austin Ruse, has participated directly in every major UN social policy negotiation, including the International Criminal Court, the debate that led to a UN resolution calling for a ban on human cloning, the Disabilities Convention, Cairo+5, Beijing+5 and dozens of others. C-FAM sits at the center of a coalition of non-governmental organizations and pro-life governments that have stopped abortion from becoming an international human right, blocked radical attempts to redefine the family, stopped a redefinition of gender, and much else.

Besides directly lobbying UN delegates, C-FAM also publishes numerous research papers every year through its International Organization Research Group whose papers go to senior policy makers and scholars around the world. C-FAM is best known for its weekly Friday Fax, the only originally researched and written news report on pro-life issues coming out of UN headquarters in New York. The Friday Fax has more than 100,000 readers, including those at the highest level of governments.

C-FAM has a full-time staff of six, plus three senior fellows [including two PhD's and two lawyers] and offices in New York and Washington DC, and is now operational in Brussels, focusing on the European Institutions.

European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ)
Founded in 1998; accredited with ECOSOC in 2007

In the late 1990s, efforts spearheaded by Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, began to mobilize Christian lawyers internationally to protect the rights of believers to worship and share the message of Jesus Christ without fear of persecution or discrimination in Europe. These efforts led to the creation of the ECLJ, which believes that the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is one of the most important human rights and a prerequisite for the full development of the individual and society. The main office of the Center is in Strasbourg, France, and it has affiliated offices in Russia, Slovakia, and the United States.

The ECLJ has been involved in the litigation of dozens of cases before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and is very active in the work of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. In addition, the ECLJ has served as a mediator in many international issues, including the recent recognition by the Israeli government of the Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem. The Centre closely monitors the work of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, addressing it several times on issues including defamation of religion and the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

The ECLJ has submitted major reports to the UN on religious freedom issues, both nationally and internationally. Recently, ECLJ attorneys traveled to the Holy Land for a fact-finding mission on religious freedom in conjunction with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and arranged joint meetings with her and numerous Christian religious leaders there. With three fulltime lawyers and affiliated attorneys on call, the ECLJ works closely in advising the Holy See, Christian organizations, and governments on religious freedom and other human rights issues.

Institute for Family Policies European Network (IPF)
Founded in 2000; accredited with ECOSOC in 2006

The Institute for Family Policies (IPF) is an international civil organization seeking to promote and defend the natural family. It has structures and representation in 8 European and Latin American countries with headquarters in Madrid, Spain.

The Institute aims for the adoption and implementation of family policies in all political levels and circumstances. To this end it carries out analysis of the situation of the family, seeks to identify its main problems and presents alternatives and solutions, particularly to the decision makers. For instance, a Report on the Evolution of the Family in Europe is presented annually at the European Parliament.

As a supranational organization, it has alliances and contacts with like-minded entities all over the world. IPF's representatives have participated in more than 30 international activities in the past 3 years. Also, the presence of IPF in the mass media is one of its aims in order to raise social and political awareness on the promotion of the family. Last year's achievements in this regard have been over 50 press releases, more than 600 news items in international, national and regional press, nearly 100 appearances on television and 275 news stories on the radio.

IPF believes that the foundation of the family unit is marriage, the union of a man and a woman, a formal and stable link, freely entered into, publicly celebrated, and providing the environment for the creation of new life. It has deep respect for and maintains mutual collaboration with the Catholic Church in order to promote family values.

International Solidarity & Human Rights Institute (ISHRI)
Founded in 2004; applying for ECOSOC accreditation in 2008

ISHRI was founded by three attorneys and professors who teach at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in response to the need to form young leaders in the area of international relations with a solid foundation in Catholic social teaching. Beginning in 2005, ISHRI has brought about 200 high school, college, and graduate, and post-graduate students to major international UN conferences in New York, Geneva, and Vienna where the students actively participate as NGO representatives and advocate for issues of concern to the Church. ISHRI has been especially active at the Commission on the Status of Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which a disabled ISHRI student addressed on the critical need to include language on nutrition and hydration in the treaty.

ISHRI also has offered several summer courses on human rights, public policy, and Catholic social teaching in Europe, Washington, and Mexico, and is organizing a course this summer in Australia, the Philippines, and China. ISHRI has supported many initiatives and speakers, including a major symposium in Austria on John Paul II's theology of the body. Alumni of ISHRI have gone on to work as interns for the U.S. and Holy See Missions to the UN, and many have gone on to law school and other graduate studies.

The founders of ISHRI would like the Institute to be the impetus for a major new graduate program in international relations and Catholic social thought, which would serve as a feeder program for diplomats, public policy officials, and attorneys in embassies and missions around the world.

The need for such a program has been recently reaffirmed several times by Vatican officials, who have stressed the need for highly competent and well-catechized future leaders on the international stage.

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