December 27, 2010

U.S. diplomats have for years been pressing the Vatican for stronger public support of genetically modified foods but have made little headway, according to documents released through WikiLeaks.

A 2005 cable, citing embassy meetings with two Vatican officials, reported that Church leaders had no great fears about the safety of genetically modified organisms, but were concerned about the economic issues involved.

It quoted Father Michael Osborn of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which coordinates international Catholic charitable activities, as saying “the science is solid” on the safety of GMOs and that those who were using “scare tactics” would gradually cease to be a factor in the Church’s thinking.

The cable cited a separate conversation with Msgr. James Reinert of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who reportedly said Vatican efforts to move forward on biotechnology were met with strong objections from some Church quarters, especially in developing countries such as the Philippines.

It said Reinert had joked that the Filipino Church would “go into schism” if the Vatican came out any stronger for biotech food.

It said the U.S. Embassy would “continue to press the moral imperative of biotech” by sharing research on economic benefits and safeguards, which it said would be important to “winning Vatican hearts and minds.”

The Vatican has cautioned that the WikiLeaks cables reflect the perceptions and opinions of the people who wrote them, not official Vatican positions, and should be read with prudence.