Scientology Crime Syndicate

Bush Supports Continued Vatican Presence at U.N.
Politics: Texas governor criticizes attempts to change status.
Gore camp tries to blunt charge that vice president has been silent on the issue.

Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Texas--Texas Gov. George W. Bush sounded on Friday like a Catholic scholar in a fevered rush to prove his learning.

In a seven-minute address via satellite to a meeting of the Catholic Press Assn. in Baltimore, Bush managed to squeeze in quotations from Pope John Paul II, recently deceased Cardinal John J. O'Connor and theologian and author C.S. Lewis.

Then the presumed Republican nominee weighed in on an obscure diplomatic battle by declaring his support for the Vatican to retain its "permanent observer status" at the United Nations, a special designation that has come under fire recently from abortion rights groups.

"In world affairs, the Holy See has long been an influence for the good, and never more than the last couple of decades," Bush said. "Some groups have been trying to silence that voice in the United Nations. The position of the current administration is unclear."

The comments refer to an ongoing campaign by a group called Catholics for a Free Choice, backed by abortion rights organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League that resent the Vatican's efforts to block family planning in third-world countries. Arguing that the Vatican gets special treatment among world religions by having status as an observer instead of as a nongovernmental organization, U.S. officials allowed the group to hold a news conference on the grounds of the U.N. last March, Bush officials said.

As a permanent observer, the Vatican has no vote in the United Nations, but it can take an active role in debates and conferences. Bush and his aides seized on the protest, demanding that Gore take a stand on the issue. "At a time when leading elements in his party are seeking the removal of the Vatican from the United Nations, we think it's important to speak out on behalf of the Vatican," one Bush aide said. "The Vatican deserves its spot at the United Nations."

But if the Bush camp was trying to score political points by making Gore seem spineless--their favored line of attack so far this spring--the tactic backfired. Gore advisors said the vice president fully supports the Vatican's current status.

They also used the opportunity to bring up Bob Jones University, painting Bush as a panderer still trying to live down his controversial visit to the institution with a history of anti-Catholic teachings.

"If he's so concerned about Catholics, why did he publicly embrace a university that calls [Catholicism] a cult?" said Doug Hattaway, a Gore spokesman.

And Gore aides derided the Bush team for apparently being ignorant of an interview the vice president gave in April with Knight-Ridder in which he expressed his support for maintaining the Vatican's current status.

They compared the attack to previous Bush criticisms without basis, such as when Bush accused Gore of belonging to the National Rifle Assn. without proof, or when he said Gore owned stock, when he did not.

"Bush is once again making false charges without any facts," Hattaway said.

Clinton aides also criticized Bush's attack, saying that the U.S. position on the matter is well known.

"Knowledgeable people understand that our policy on permanent observer status is absolutely clear," said Jim Kennedy, a White House spokesman. "We support it wholeheartedly and have supported it since 1964." Bush aides, who said they had searched for a Gore stance on the issue without finding any, said they "applauded" Gore's stance. Bush has apologized for not doing more to signal his opposition to Bob Jones' fundamentalist anti-Catholic teachings at his appearance there on Feb. 2 during the South Carolina primary.

And suggestions that he is anti-Catholic are clearly still a sore spot with the candidate, who has cast himself as a "compassionate conservative" open to all faiths. Indeed, on a campaign swing earlier this week, one reporter donned a rock tour T-shirt printed by the Democratic National Committee that mocks Bush's attempts to appear moderate as the Bush "Redemption Tour." When Bush saw the shirt, he stiffened and became angry, telling the reporter only half-jokingly to get off the plane. The reporter protested that the shirt was funny, but Bush responded: "It's not funny. Some day you're going to learn diplomacy."


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