Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer at the United Nations in Geneva, is pictured in March 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Today the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
issued a scathing report on the Vatican’s response to the sexual abuse of
children by priests worldwide. The report criticizes the Holy See for not
holding bishops accountable for the activities of the priests within their
dioceses and calls for the release of all files pertaining to clerical abuse of
The report also took the Vatican to task for Catholic
teaching on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion.
From the Associated
The U.N. blasted the “code of silence” that has long
been used to keep victims quiet, saying the Holy See had “systematically placed
preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the
protection of child victims.” It called on the Holy See to provide compensation
to victims and hold accountable not just the abusers but also those who covered
up their crimes.
“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See
has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the
necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect
children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the
continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators,” the
It called for the sex abuse commission that Pope
Francis announced in December to conduct an independent investigation of all
cases of priestly abuse and the way the Catholic hierarchy has responded over
time, and urged the Holy See to establish clear rules for the mandatory
reporting of abuse to police and to support laws that allow victims to report
crimes even after the statute of limitations has expired. …
While most attention has focused on child sex abuse,
the committee’s recommendations extended far beyond, into issues about
discrimination against children and their rights to adequate health care,
issues that touch on core church teaching about life and sexual morals.
The committee, for example, urged the Vatican to amend
its canon law to identify circumstances where access to abortion can be
permitted for children, such as to save the life of a young mother. It also
urged the Holy See to ensure that sex education, including access to
information about contraception and preventing HIV, is mandatory in Catholic
Allen provides some
context and observations on the UN report:
One, it follows a
Jan. 16 hearing in Geneva in which Italian Archbishop Silvano Tomasi and
Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta appeared before the Committee on the
Rights of the Child on behalf of the Vatican.
vowed that the Catholic church today wants to be “an example of best practice”
in the fight against child abuse, while Scicluna insisted that Catholicism now
recognizes a “non-negotiable principle” of paramount concern for the well-being
of children in its approach to wayward clergy.
general, the back-and-forth that day suggested that the child protection
experts who make up the UN panel felt that the Vatican, however belatedly, is
moving in the right direction. …
written report doesn’t contain much reference to Tomasi and Scicluna’s
testimony, and its tone is unsparingly critical suggesting either that at
least portions of it were actually drafted before the hearing took place, or
that, upon reflection, the experts were less persuaded the Vatican has turned a
corner than they seemed two weeks ago.
the report seems destined to be read with skepticism in some Catholic circles
because it also wades into the culture wars. At different points, the UN panel
suggests that the Vatican modify, or even abandon, Catholic teaching on issues
such as abortion, gay marriage and contraception.
#55 of the UN report, for instance, advises the Vatican to repeal canon 1398 of
the Code of Canon Law, a provision that imposes the penalty of automatic excommunication
for participation in abortion. At another point, the report suggests that
Catholic venues should provide family planning services including birth
Vatican issued the following statement
in response to the UN report:
According to the proper procedures
foreseen for the parties to the Convention, the Holy See takes note of the
Concluding Observations on its Reports, which will be submitted to a thorough
study and examination, in full respect of the Convention in the different areas
presented by the Committee according to international law and practice, as well
as taking into consideration the public interactive debate with the Committee,
held on 16 January 2014.
Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the Concluding
Observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity
of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.
The Holy See reiterates its
commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child, in line with
the principles promoted by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and
according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine.
UPDATE: The full text of the report by the UN Committee on the
Rights of the Child can be found here (PDF).
Vatican Radio has published a brief interview with Archbishop Silvano
Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations and one of the Holy
See’s representatives at last month’s UN hearing on the sexual abuse of
children. Archbishop Tomasi shares John Allen’s opinion that the report may
have been written, at least in part, prior to the hearing:
The first impression is that the report in some
ways is not up to date, not taking into account some of the clear and precise
explanations that were given to the committee in the encounter that the
delegation of the Holy See had with the committee three or four weeks ago.
Archbishop Tomasi addressed the report’s criticisms of Church
teachings, specifically on abortion, saying the Vatican “cannot give up certain
teachings that are part of their deep convictions and also an expression of
freedom of religion…for example the committee asked for acceptance of
abortion and this is a contradiction with the principle of life, that the
convention itself should support.”
Archbishop Tomasi also stated that while it would be “very difficult…to
find other institutions or even other states that have done so much
specifically for the protection of children” as the Vatican has in recent
years, “we have to continue to refine, to enact provisions that protect
children…so that they may grow and become productive adults in society and
their dignity be constantly respected.”
The Holy See is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the
Child and intends to be faithfully carrying out all the elements of this
Convention for the protection of children…this is the way toward the future,
and I don’t think that there will be fundamental changes in this task ahead.