UN blasts Vatican response to sex abuse UPDATED

New report also criticizes Church teaching on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion.

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 children.

The report also took the Vatican to task for Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion.

From the Associated Press:

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 report said.

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 schools.

John 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.

Tomasi 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.

In 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. …

The 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.

Second, 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.

Item #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 control.

The 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. 

The 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.


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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.