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The U.S. and The Vatican on Birth Control

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In response to concerns of the Vatican, the Reagan Administration agreed to alter its foreign-aid program to comply with the church’s teachings on birth control. According to William Wilson, the President’s first ambassador to the Vatican, the State Department reluctantly agreed to an outright ban on the use of any U. S. aid funds by either countries or international health organizations for the promotion of birth control or abortion. As a result of this position, announced at the World Conference on Population in Mexico City in 1984, the U.S. withdrew funding from, among others, two of the world’s largest family planning organizations: the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.

“American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican’s not agreeing with our policy,” Wilson explains. “American aid programs around the world did not meet the criteria the Vatican had for family planning. AID ((the Agency for International Development)) sent various people from ((the Department of)) State to Rome, and I’d accompany them to meet the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and in long discussions they finally got the message. But it was a struggle. They finally selected different programs and abandoned others as a result of this intervention.”

“I might have touched on that in some of my discussions with ((CIA director William)) Casey,” acknowledges Pio Cardinal Laghi, the former apostolic delegate to Washington. “Certainly Casey already knew about our positions about that.”

The Administration consulted with the Vatican on other matters as well. In Lebanon, the Reagan Administration adopted policies favoring the interests of the church and Maronite Christians. On several occasions, Casey used church channels to deal with the contras, though the Vatican itself took no official position on the war in Nicaragua. (Indeed, the Pope issued numerous appeals for peace in Central America and implicitly criticized the U.S. for prolonging the conflict.) Cardinal Laghi, who had served in Nicaragua in the early 1950s as secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature in Managua, played a key role by assuring contra leaders that the Administration delivered on its promises.

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