NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - António Guterres, a practicing Catholic, has been sworn in as the next secretary general of the United Nations.
The former prime minister of Portugal from 1995–2002, Guterres took the oath of office on December 12. He served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005–2015. In his bid for the UN nomination for secretary general, Guterres won unanimous backing from the UN Security Council.
According to reports, Guterres is a faithful Catholic who helped push back against the pro-abortion agenda in Portugal.
Claudio Anaia, former leader of the Young Catholic Socialists in Portugal, provided more background on Guterres' faith. "People ask us all the time how we can reconcile being Catholic and Socialist," he said. "I always point to Guterres as an example. He is a good man, a man of deep faith and serious convictions."
That faith would be tested shortly after Guterres was elected prime minister. Members of the Guterres' Socialist Party drafted a law legalizing abortion under any circumstance up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. A close friend of Guterres, António Barahona, recounted how Guterres responded to the pressure from his party to support the legislation.
"At that time he was under very intense pressure to change his position, or at least keep silent on the issue," Barahona remarked.
"I remember being with him at private social functions and a lot of the conversations kept going back to that one point," Barahona said, "but he was always adamant that this was a question of conscience and fidelity to his principles, from which he would not back down, no matter what the consequences."
"He paid a political price for his position on abortion, and he was aware that he was going to pay it," he added.
In his opening speech as secretary general, Guterres focused on the need for greater efficiency and streamlining of the UN bureaucracy. "It benefits no one if it takes nine months to deploy a staff member to the field," he said. "The United Nations needs to be nimble, efficient and effective. It must focus more on delivery and less on process, more on people and less on bureaucracy."
In his speech, he discussed the dangers to the principles on which the UN Charter is based. "The threats to these values are most often based on fear," he commented. "Our duty to the people we serve is to work together to move from fear of each other to trust in each other. Trust in the values that bind us, and trust in the institutions that serve and protect us."
Guterres also reached out to those who have "lost confidence not only in their governments but in global institutions, including the United Nations." When asked what his message to President-Elect Donald Trump was, he deflected, saying he would exhibit "a clear will to cooperate in relation to the enormous challenges we will be facing together."
According to the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), Guterres will represent a breath of fresh air, and will stand in stark contrast to outgoing secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, who has been at the center of pro-abortion and pro-LGBT activism at the United Nations throughout his tenure. C-Fam remarked,
Sadly, the UN system's promotion of abortion and LGBT rights under [current Secretary General] Ban Ki-Moon's tenure has eroded much good will. We hope Guterres is able to restore that which was lost and defend the inherent dignity of worth of every human life from conception as well as the place of the family as natural and fundamental group unit of society.
According to C-Fam, "The Secretary General [Ban Ki-Moon] has been at the forefront of including abortion in humanitarian efforts, and has gone as far as claiming that providing abortion is an obligation under humanitarian law and the laws of war."
It continued, "In doing so, he is pushing the boundaries of what UN member states consider acceptable."
In contrast, C-Fam has reacted positively to Guterres' nomination. "We look forward to Guterres' tenure as Secretary-General," the pro-family group said in its official statement. "By all accounts he is a measured public servant and has a pro-life record as a politician. We hope this reflects how he would exercise the important office he is being entrusted."
Ban Ki-Moon has been an aggressive supporter of the LGBT agenda. "I ask those who use religious or cultural arguments to deprive LGBT people of their human rights: What do you gain by making others less equal?" he once asked. "Is your religion or culture so weak that the only way you can sustain it is by denying others their basic rights? There is no room in our 21st century for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity."
In contrast, Guterres has reportedly said that "homosexuality is not an aspect that I particularly like." He has also allegedly referred to homosexuality in the past as a "mental disorder," and his candidacy for secretary general was opposed by pro-LGBT groups. In particular, the pro-LGBT National Secular Society (NSS) has also taken a critical attitude towards Guterres.
The executive director of the NSS, Keith Woods, wrote, "When acting as Secretary General I would urge Guterres to embrace rather than obstruct the expansion and strengthening of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Gay Rights. The world will be watching and hoping fervently that he will not be unduly influenced by regressive religious forces."
In response, James Macintyre, a Christian columnist, noted, "It is unclear whether Wood considers the pope to be among those regressive religious forces. But as it happens, Pope Francis has been at the forefront of global efforts in highlighting the plight of refugees, of Syria and of the poor and disadvantaged around the world."