The Convenient Hypocrisy of the United Nations

It’s a classic case of "Do as we say, not as we do"

I suppose it goes without saying that hypocrisy is usually convenient for the hypocrite. And there are hypocrites to be found nearly everywhere, including within the Catholic Church. But when a transnational entity such as the U.N. lectures the Catholic Church about abuse and tries to leverage its moral authority (if that’s the right term) against Catholic beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and reproduction, an especially repulsive level of hypocrisy is surely being breached.

Claudia Rosett, journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, certainly thinks so. In a piece, “The U.N. Assault on the Catholic Church”, published in today’s Wall Street Journal, she states:

In the name of protecting children,the United Nations is now preaching to the Vatican. A report on the Holy See—released by a U.N. committee last week to much media fanfare—alleged that tens of thousands of children have been abused by Catholic clerics, and that the Vatican has helped cover it up.

The committee strongly urged the Vatican: “Ensure a transparent sharing of all archives which can be used to hold the abusers accountable as well as those who concealed their crimes and knowingly placed offenders in contact with children.”

That’s rich coming from the U.N., which has still not solved its own festering problems of peacekeeper sex abuse, including the rape of minors. Exposing abusers and holding them to account is a great idea. The Vatican has spent years addressing the scandal of its own past handling of such cases. But the U.N. hardly engages in the transparency it is now promoting.

She provides some numbers and background:

Though the U.N. has been recording a drop in sex-abuse cases since it began releasing numbers in 2007, the number of alleged instances of rape and exploitation each year still runs into the dozens. (This may understate the realities, given the hurdles to victims coming forward, often in societies in tumult or at war.) From 2007-13, the U.N. reported more than 600 allegations of rape or sexual exploitation, with 354 substantiated—many of them involving minors. The numbers do not convey how ugly some of these cases get. Details can occasionally be gleaned when an incident seeps past the U.N. wall of omerta and makes it into the news, as with the peacekeeper gang rape in 2011 of a Haitian teenager, whose agony was caught on video.

Now there is a term that is truly revolting: “peacekeeper gang rape”. Rosett notes that “hypocrisy is just one of the problems with this 16-page report on the Holy See, which further assails the Vatican for not subordinating itself wholesale to a much broader U.N. agenda. … The real issue here is that whatever changes the Vatican and the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics might consider, the U.N. is supremely ill-qualified to serve as a guide.” For example:

Officially, all parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child are supposed to self-report every five years. The U.N. committee then responds with its own volume of “concluding observations”—which is what just hit the Vatican. In practice, however, some treaty members miss their deadlines by years, and when they do clock in, the committee is chronically slow to respond. Iran has for years led the world in juvenile executions, yet the committee last reported on Iran in 2005. Its next report on Iran is not due until 2016.

Of course, there are some who will see this criticism as a way of either ignoring or distracting from what certain priests and bishops have done. In the words of one reader (apparently a Muslim):

The Church’s practices will be challenged (by anyone, anywhere) as long as they continue to be abusive and immoral. It’s despicable that believers are getting up in arms about this particular report rather than becoming more galvanized to address the abuses within their own church. If you want to stop such scandalous reports about your organization from being publicized, STOP YOUR PRIESTS FROM ABUSING CHILDREN AND DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM!

Such sentiments are not only so broadly sweeping as to be fairly meaningless (what “Church practices”, for instance?), they ignore both the many practical, institutional steps the Church has taken in recent years to address past abuses and stop further abuses, and the fact—yes, fact—that chronic and widespread abuses have yet to be really addressed in a number of other institutions, including public schools. Unfortunately, perfect justice is not going to be found for some victims, no matter the efforts made by both those in the Church and in the justice system. The question that keeps arising, as it has with the U.N. report is this: how much of the criticism of the Catholic Church is motivated by a desire for authentic justice and how much is fueled by a dislike, or even hatred, of the Church’s teachings about sexuality, abortion, marriage, and so forth? It’s a legitimate question, and those who act as if the reprehensible actions of specific priests, bishops, and others provides carte blanche cover from which to attack the Catholic Church as a whole are showing their true colors and sometimes hypocritical motivations. 

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About Carl E. Olson 1233 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.