Telling Each Other What to Do
Gateway Pundit notes the Vatican has urged Catholics not to donate to Amnesty International over AI's endorsement of abortion. Opinio Juris says "Whether the Vatican is right to do this is a question for another day, but what I'm interested in is the ability of one NGO (the Vatican) to pressure another (Amnesty International)."
Although nongovernment organizations have existed for millenia, the modern NGO really burst onto the public scene in the last 30 years as it assumed a new role quite different than that implied by its name. Unlike old-time nongovernment organizations like orphanages, schools and research institutions, the modern "nongovernment organization" is really a "quasi-government organization" with some, but not all of the attributes of a sovereign state. Organizations like Amenesty International, Doctors without Borders, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etc have more power and influence than many states. Greenpeace actually has a miniature fleet with its own small branch of naval aviation. Watch the video below of its helicopter operations for proof.
So when the Vatican, which is actually a state with some characteristics of an old-time NGO, takes on Amnesty International the dynamics, as Opinio Juris noted, are interesting. The first thing to observe is that quite unconsciously, NGOs like Amnesty International have become religions in the traditional sense of the word. They pronounce upon morality and ethics in ways previously reserved for religions. Greenpeace may have actually become a religious organization. The big NGOs are now quasi-sovereign organizations which issue yearly and well publicized reports, telling nations how to conduct their internal affairs, foreign policy, trade, etc.
It was therefore natural for Amnesty International, the quasi-religion, to get into a doctrinal dispute with the Catholic Church. It was also inevitable for Amnesty International, in its quasi-state character as the arbiter of human rights law to come under criticism from the Vatican, in its personality as an NGO. The roles have blurred and they rub at the edges.
One class of NGOs in particular is particularly interesting. Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah are in a league of their own. Hezbollah for example, has successfully warred against the State of Israel and al-Qaeda is now actively in combat against the United States.
People today live in a world where the sole source of authority is no longer elected government. Pashtuns in Afghanistan are prohibited from shaving their beards by the Taliban. Hamas bombs Internet cafes in Gaza, if there are any left. Amnesty International instructs us in the licitness of abortion, or the lack thereof. And Greenpeace is nothing less than the custodian of the planet. They are widely obeyed. And yet the average man on the street can hardly name the men who run these powerful organizations. That doesn't make them less potent though.