Permanent Observer to United Nations Office and Specialized Agencies in Geneva
by Father John Pawlikowski, O.S.M.,PhD. and Gordon Nary
Father John and Gordon: When were you appointed the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to United Nations Office and Specialized Agencies in Geneva and what are your primary responsibilities?
Archbishop Jurkovic: At the beginning of 2016, I was informed of my appointment to Geneva. After having spent 15 years as a Nuncio in Eastern Europe, I was delighted to accept a new challenge in Geneva. As I was completing my service as Nuncio in the Russian Federation, I just asked my superiors to wait for the historical encounter between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill to take place in Habana. For me it was like the culmination of a long service in a religious and cultural environment that left a deep impact on all my personal and professional formation.
The increasing involvement of the Holy See in multilateral diplomacy is the result of the conviction that the human person’s dignity and rationality must be protected and served. It’s the basic expression of the love of neighbour that implies a universal dimension: an approach where there are no conditions The specific agenda of the Holy See for multilateral diplomacy in many ways reflects the concerns of the international community although it gives its own reading of current reality in the light of experience obtained on the ground and of a non-partisan approach, of the social doctrine developed and being developed so far, of acceptance of “natural law” and human rights derived from it. Examples are the active involvement in the debates relating to: religious freedom; right to development; right to life from the conception to the natural death; protection of uprooted people; emergency response to humanitarian crises; disarmament and promotion of peace; the role of labour and the right of workers; environment, climate change, intellectual property and information technologies. In the overall unchanged mission of the Church, dialogue with our contemporary culture and some forms of action in the context of globalization offer the possibility of reaching out to men and women of the world to remind them where integral human development can be found.
Father John and Gordon: You have previous served as Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Uzbekistan. What were the major challenges that you observed in these countries?
Archbishop Jurkovic: When I arrived in Moscow in 1992, as a Counsellor to our Pontifical Representation, the main concern was to contact the catholic communities spread over the enormous territory of the Russian Federation and some other States that were part of the Soviet Union. The catholic community was severely persecuted and forcibly disseminated on the huge territory of Russia. In certain cases, the communities were so decimated that it was impossible to recompose them again. In other cases, this process was possible mainly because of the atmosphere of religious freedom that characterized that period.
Today, the situation is very different. Our communities in Belarus and in Ukraine are very sizable: more that 20% of the population in Belarus and more than 16% in Ukraine, from both the Oriental and Latin rites.
In Russia the principal mission of our community is to find a vital and continuous dialogue with the Orthodox Church. This priority will certainly dominate many years to come and Pope Francis is well aware of its importance for the general testimony of Christians in today’s world.
Father John and Gordon: Your article Danger of ‘Digital Divide’ is very powerful. What can we as individuals, parishes and organizations do to address this challenge more effectively?
Archbishop Jurkovic: You are referring to the question of the importance of new technologies for the future of our societies. The major concern of the Holy See in its action within the international organizations is to be attentive that the fast development of new technologies does not amplify the enormous divide existing between the developed and less developed world. The rapid changes in the field of communication and application of digital technologies should be seen as a possibility to allow a bigger part of humanity to have access to these means. The world has become much more interconnected and today a growing number of people have access to education, and many other resources are widely accessible. But the preoccupation remains that the progress of the world is proceeding at a different speed and many countries are in danger of being left behind.
Certainly, this is true also for the functioning of the religious communities. It is our duty to use all new means also for the spiritual mission of the Church so as to make more efficient its educative and social work.
Father John and Gordon: Pope Francis has spoken out against nuclear weapons. He has declared such weapons immoral. Do you fear an escalation of a nuclear arms race in light of the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran Accord? Do you think Pope Francis' statement can have a positive impact on this issue? Do you think the U.S. Bishops ought to address this question?
Archbishop Jurkovic: Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the Catholic Church has engaged itself in the difficult moral questions about nuclear weapons and has always condemned the use of nuclear weapons. Pope Francis has continued the trajectory of the Church’s teaching and Saint John XXIII’s call for a ban on nuclear weapons, which culminated in the Holy See’s ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons negotiated in 2017. Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that “Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”
The Iran Accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is the outcome of long negotiations and diplomatic work and requires the commitment of all parties involved in order to bear fruit and contribute to peace in a very delicate region of the world. Under this perspective, the withdrawal by the United States is a source of concern, as it could lead to the non-respect by the other parties and to an escalation of violence in the region. The fact that the other parties to the JCPOA are still urging to uphold and preserve the JCPOA is quite telling in this regard.
The Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has welcomed the JCPOA and has been supportive of the agreement, insisting on the role of dialogue in resolving crises as opposed to military force.
Father John and Gordon: What have been the United Nation’s concerns on the United States-North Korea negotiations?
Archbishop Jurkovic: On May 24, when President Trump announced the cancellation of the Summit of 12 June, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Antonio Guterres, in presenting his new Agenda for Disarmament “Securing Our Common Future”, stated that he was “deeply concerned by the cancellation of the planned meeting in Singapore between the President of the United States and the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and I urge the parties to continue their dialogue to find a path to the peaceful and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
Since then the talks between the United States and North Korea seems to have resumed, but given the complexity of the issue, we will just have to wait until June 12 and see.
The Catholic Church in Korea and Pope Francis have been supportive of the way of dialogue and encounter. Referring to the historical meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea, the Pope stated that “the Holy See supports and encourages all useful and sincere initiatives to build a better future, in the name of encounter and friendship among people”, addressing those who have direct political responsibility to “act with wisdom and discernment to promote the good of the Korean people and to build relationships of trust within the international community.”
Father John and Gordon: Does the Vatican have any concerns about the United Sate leaving the Paris Agreement?
Archbishop Jurkovic: This century is on course to witness unprecedented environmental changes. In particular the projected climate changes, or more appropriately, climate disruptions when coupled with ongoing massive species extinctions and the destruction of ecosystems will undoubtedly leave their indelible mark on both humanity and nature. Paragraph 23 of “Laudato Si’” acknowledges that human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, is contributing to global warming and climate change. Climate change is occurring against a background of other far reaching environmental changes including freshwater depletion, land use change and soil degradation. We depend entirely on biodiversity for our survival: they collectively make up the ecosystems into which we evolved and which make our life possible. Unfortunately, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis are often frustrated for various reasons ranging from denial of the problem to indifference, comfortable resignation, or blind trust in technical solutions.
Father John and Gordon: Given the enhanced emphasis on the role of the laity in the Church by Pope Francis and many Bishops, do you foresee the day when lay people, both men and women, will represent the Holy See in the Church's diplomatic service?
Archbishop Jurkovic: The Church is a part of the living society and the changes in the society will certainly influence also the way the Church acts in the society. There are certain ministries in the Church that are entrusted only to men. But there are a variety of other responsibilities in the Church that certainly can be assumed by any catholic believer. As far as the diplomatic service is concerned, sometimes it can be perceived that the international community appreciates the presence of the consecrated persons, probably for a variety of reasons including the specific character of a person with a special vocation in the Church.
Father John and Gordon: There are some in the United States government that believe that waterboarding is permissible in some situations. What is the United Nations position on waterboarding?
Archbishop Jurkovic: The use or incitement of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has been absolutely prohibited in treaty law, such as the Convention Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva Conventions. All nations that are signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture have agreed to the explicit prohibition of torture under any condition. Waterboarding can without any reservation be labeled as torture. It fulfils all of the four central criteria that according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture define an act of torture: Article 1 defines the term “torture” as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession”. Article 2.2 of the Convention Against Torture states that “[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Additionally, signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are bound to Article 5, which states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” From the point of view of the Church, to all these international commitments we have to add the moral dimension which requires respect of the human being also in the difficult context of armed conflict and the danger of terrorist attacks.
Father John and Gordon: What has been the response by the United Nations of the United States cancellation of the Iran agreement?
Archbishop Jurkovic: First of all, it must be recalled that the Iran agreement known as JCPOA was endorsed by the United Nations Security Council through Resolution 2231 (2015).
After the announcement of the United States to withdraw from the JCPOA, the Secretary- General of the United Nations expressed his concern and stated that “the JCPOA represents a major achievement in nuclear non-proliferation and diplomacy and has contributed to regional and international peace and security.”
Additionally, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which is the agency responsible to verify and monitor the implementation of the nuclearrelated commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA, speaking the day after the United States announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA, declared that “the IAEA can confirm that the nuclear-related commitments are being implemented by Iran”. It is also important to recall the traditional stand of the Holy See that was also favorable to reaching agreements relating to disarmament and arms control: often even a not perfect agreement is preferable to the absence of any agreement that would make the situation more uncertain and more dangerous.
Father John and Gordon: You recently spoke out that the Holy Land needs peace with justice and dialogue. What in your opinion should be the first step?
Archbishop Jurkovic: The Holy See continues to follow with great attention the developments of the situation in the Middle East, with special reference to Jerusalem, a sacred city for Christians, Jews and Muslims from all over the world. The position of the Holy See is very well known concerning the singular character of the Holy City and the essential need for respecting the status quo, in conformity with the deliberations of the international community and the repeated requests of the hierarchies of the Churches and Christian communities of the Holy Land. Only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace and guarantee the peaceful co-existence of two States within internationally recognized borders.