VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Thursday (Nov. 8) attacked United Nations agencies for endorsing abortion, sterilization and contraception as part of their policy on "reproductive health" in refugee camps.

In a note to Roman Catholic bishops conferences worldwide, the Vatican warned that the Inter-Agency Field Manual on Reproductive Health in Refugee Situations "is the object of several serious concerns for the church."

The 18-page statement, dated Sept. 14 and issued Thursday in English, French, Spanish and Italian, was prepared by the Pontifical Councils for Health Pastoral Care, for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and for the Family.

While "there are positive aspects to the manual," the church has strong reservations to its "philosophical approach that, in its attempt to promote individual freedom, neglects corresponding individual and social duties," the note said.

The note said that the church "is committed to material, psychological and medical help for refugees."

But it said the field manual does not respect the refugees' "inalienable right to life," and cited the teaching of the Catholic Church "regarding the immorality of cooperating in abortion, sterilization and contraception."

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) published the field manual in 1999 in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and nongovernmental organizations.

The Vatican objections to the field manual were identical with those it expressed at the U.N. Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994. The note said that WHO and UNFPA continue to promote the Cairo "ideology of reproductive health."

The note criticized the field manual for proposing the use of the so-called morning-after pill for rape victims, contraceptive pills, sterilization and suction equipment in post-abortion care and for promoting a "nonjudgmental approach" to extramarital and homosexual relations that "cannot be accepted."

The sex education programs that the field manual suggests would introduce young people "into the world of individualistic and irresponsible sexual pleasure, which increases the risk of extending the HIV/AIDS epidemic," the note charged.

Priests who come into contact with Catholic refugees and aid workers "must be very vigilant to ensure that practices proposed by the field manual and considered to be immoral do not gain a foothold," the Vatican said.

"The field manual carries anti-values that offend the dignity of the poorest and most vulnerable populations with proposals regarding the limitation of births, an idea of irresponsible sexual relations and even abortion," the note said.

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