U.N. anti-torture committee member Felice Gaer’s statement to a Holy See delegation equating opposition to abortion and torture is part of a growing trend to exclude Catholics and other pro-life advocates, one critic says. “That our country’s own representative at a United Nations committee would seek to intimidate the diplomatic face of the world’s largest religious institution is profoundly troubling,” Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said in a May 28 opinion column for Real Clear Religion. She charged that Gaer, the vice-chair of the United Nations’ Committee on the Convention Against Torture, is “now a part of efforts directly targeting one of the Catholic Church's most deeply-held beliefs: that life begins at conception and that all human life has inherent dignity and is worthy of protection.” Gaer, a U.S. appointee named by the Obama administration, questioned the Holy See delegation during May 5-6 hearings in Geneva about the Holy See’s adherence to the Convention Against Torture. Gaer told apostolic nuncio Archbishop Silvano Tomasi and the Holy See delegation that her committee has found that criminalizing abortion in all circumstances can violate the anti-torture convention. She asked the delegation to respond to criticisms that its position against abortion requires pregnant nine-year-olds to give birth. According to McGuire, who was at the hearings, Gaer used her position to “stare the papal nuncio of the Holy See in the face and threaten him, saying that to be pro-life is to be pro-torture.” The Catholic commentator said Gaer’s comments sent the message “back off abortion or we will hold you in violation of the Convention Against Torture.” McGuire said that it is “not really surprising” that an Obama appointee who self-describes as “fiercely pro-choice” would use her position to “violate the religious liberty of the Catholic Church by threatening and pressuring the Catholic Church to abandon her moral teaching.” However, she lamented increasing pressure from the U.S. government to exclude Catholics and other pro-life advocates from the public and private sectors. “Once a country that welcomed religious diversity into an open space of mutual respect, our society is now increasingly beholden to a new intolerance that pushes the multitude of values and beliefs that color our nation into dark and silent corners,” McGuire said. While the anti-torture committee “backed away from Gaer’s extremist line of questioning,” affirmed that the Church did not violate the convention and recognized the Church had made reforms to combat sex abuse, McGuire said the incident was “shocking” in light of Gaer’s past stands for religious freedom. Before being named to the committee, Gaer “made a name for herself as a religious liberty activist and a staunch opponent of anti-Semitism.” Gaer, in her role as a human rights advocate for the American Jewish Committee, warned about the historical progression of anti-Semitism beginning with the unjust exclusion of Jews from society. McGuire said that Gaer, as a former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “vocally defended the principle of religious liberty” and affirmed that “no one should be subject to coercion” that might impair the freedom to hold religious beliefs. “Why then, does she now exclude the pro-life view and the entire Catholic Church from this standard?” McGuire asked, noting that abandoning the consistent anti-abortion position would be to abandon Catholicism.
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