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Harvard Prof Heads Vatican Delegation to U.N. Conference on Women

August 25, 1995

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ A conservative American legal scholar was named today to head the Vatican’s delegation to the U.N. women’s conference in Beijing _ the first woman to lead such a mission for the Holy See.

In fact, 14 of the 22 people the Vatican is sending to next month’s conference are women _ the first time a mostly female team will represent the pope at such a meeting, spokesman Joaquim Navarro said.

The delegation will push for ``the right to responsible motherhood,″ he said, and try to counter what the Vatican calls negative attitudes among some feminists toward the family.

It will be led by Harvard University professor Mary Ann Glendon, Navarro said. Sheri Rickert, a legal specialist who works with the Holy See’s U.N. mission, is another of the eight Americans among the delegates.

The choice of Ms. Glendon was quickly criticized by an American Catholic group that has challenged the Vatican on several women’s issues, including Pope John Paul’s insistence that only men can be priests and the Church’s ban on birth control.

Ms. Glendon ``is a woman who has consistently articulated positions that place her at odds with the international mainstream women’s movement,″ Catholics For a Free Choice, based in Washington, said in a statement.

Navarro said the choice of Glendon as leader was not influenced by the Vatican’s clashes with the U.S. delegation at last year’s U.N. population conference in Egypt, which also dealt with issues such as abortion and sexuality. He said he expected similar conflicts in Beijing.

``At Cairo, the American delegation had a decisively pro-abortion and anti-family agenda,″ Navarro said. At Beijing, ``It won’t be a bed of roses.″

With the women’s conference to start Sept. 4, preliminary meetings indicate that delegations disagree on half of the proposed final document, Navarro said.

The Vatican plans to oppose those feminists with a ``negative attitude toward the family, with acritical support for abortion and an angry anthropology in which feminine problems are linked solely to sexuality and contraception,″ he said.

While stopping short of saying governments should pay women for running households and caring for their children, Navarro urged that the conference encourage states to somehow factor motherhood into their economies.

The Vatican has come under attack from women, including many Catholics, for excluding females from top hierarchy and the priesthood itself. Asked if the Vatican’s credibility on women’s issues would suffer at the conference because of its male-dominated structure, Navarro said: ``We didn’t hear anything about this″ at Cairo.

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