VATICAN CITY -- Fighting from a script written by Pope John Paul II, the Vatican fired a new broadside yesterday against a planned United Nations population conference, attacking the United States in general and Vice President Al Gore in particular.
Members of a 17-member Vatican delegation leave today for Cairo, Egypt, carrying papal instructions to unflaggingly oppose a draft resolution for the Sept. 5-13 conference that endorses abortion on demand and takes a liberal view of human sexuality.
Supported by the United States, other governments and feminist groups around the world, such proposals are, nevertheless, seen by the pope as a blatant assault on the sanctity of life, which he says begins at the instant of conception.
Yesterday, papal spokesman Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, a member of the high-level delegation, took issue with Mr. Gore, who will head the U.S. delegation and has said that the United States does not seek to proclaim a universal right to abortion.
"The draft of the document, which has the U.S. administration as its principal sponsor, in reality contradicts Mr. Gore," Dr. Navarro-Valls told reporters at a Vatican briefing. The Clinton administration would allow U.S. funds to flow to international groups that support abortion, reversing the policy of Republican predecessors.
Decrying what he called the document's attempts to pass off "social engineering under the guise of human rights," Dr. Navarro-Valls said Vatican delegates to the once-a-decade conference would seek to modify ambiguous language and ideas, clarifying draft phrases like "reproductive rights" and "sexual health."
In one of its fiercest, most outspoken international diplomatic initiatives in recent years, the Vatican has repeatedly attacked the 118-page draft exploring ways for slowing population growth that it portrays as a brake on economic development.
The pope himself has spoken repeatedly against draft proposals, which he says would encourage promiscuity and homosexuality, erode moral values and undermine the family. The pontiff, above all, wants the conference to ban abortion as a means of population control. It would also be disastrous, he believes, to assert abortion as a woman's fundamental right.
The Vatican sees efforts by planners, economists and aid donors to limit population in developing countries as "biological colonialism." They decry it as an effort to export First World moral values -- or their lack of them -- on poorer and often more traditional Third World societies.
The Vatican has found common cause with some Islamic countries also opposing the thrust and content of the U.N. draft. Yesterday, top Islamic scholars in Saudia Arabia called on all Muslims to boycott the conference.