Updated: Vatican policies allowed priests to rape children, UN report says

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Vatican ambassador to UN says committee allowed itself to be swayed by pro-gay ideologues


Posted: Feb 05, 2014 5:50 AM ET Last Updated: Feb 05, 2014 10:33 AM ET

The Associated Press

In a devastating report Wednesday, the UN human rights committee severely criticized the Holy See and urged it to review its policies to ensure children's rights and their access to health care.

In a devastating report Wednesday, the UN human rights committee severely criticized the Holy See and urged it to review its policies to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

The Vatican “systematically” adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a UN human rights committee said Wednesday, urging the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.

In a devastating report hailed by abuse victims, the UN committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.

The Vatican promptly objected and its UN ambassador accused the committee of having betrayed the international body’s own objectives by allowing itself to be swayed by pro-gay ideologues. He said it appeared the committee simply hadn’t listened when the Holy See outlined all the measures it has taken to protect children.

The report, which took the Vatican by surprise in its harsh tone, puts renewed pressure on Pope Francis to move decisively on the abuse front and make good on pledges to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it. The commission was announced in December, but few details have been released since then.

The committee issued its recommendations after subjecting the Holy See to a daylong interrogation last month on its implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the key UN treaty on child protection, which the Holy See ratified in 1990.

Critically, the committee rejected the Vatican’s longstanding argument that it doesn’t control bishops or their abusive priests, saying the Holy See was responsible for implementing the treaty not just in the Vatican City State but around the world “as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority.”

‘Code of silence’

In its report, the committee 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 Francis’ nascent abuse commission 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.

No Catholic bishop has ever been sanctioned by the Vatican for sheltering an abusive priest, and only in 2010 did the Holy See direct bishops to report abusers to police where law enforcement requires it. Vatican officials have acknowledged that bishop accountability remains a major problem and have suggested that under Francis, things might begin to change.

Non-binding recommendations

The committee’s recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism. Instead, the UN asked the Vatican to implement the recommendations and report back by 2017. The Vatican was 14 years late submitting its most recent report.

The committee is made up of independent experts, not other UN member states — the case on the larger and often politicized UN Human Rights Council, which also sits in Geneva. The Committee on the Rights of the Child is one of 10 UN bodies that monitor implementation of the core UN human rights treaties, and its 18 members include academics, sociologists and child development specialists from around the globe.

Switzerland Vatican UN Abuse

Kirsten Sandberg, chairperson of the UN human rights committee on the rights of the child, talks during a news conference Wednesday where the UN human rights committee denounced the Vatican. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who headed the Vatican delegation at the Jan. 16 session in Geneva, was clearly taken aback by the scathing tone of the report.

“It seems as if the document was prepared before the committee meeting, where the Vatican gave detailed responses on various points that weren’t reported in this concluding document or seem to not have been taken into consideration,” he told Vatican Radio.

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, matters that touch on core church teaching about life and sexual morals.

Mandatory sex ed urged

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 urged the Holy See to ensure that sex education, including access to information about contraception and preventing HIV, is mandatory in Catholic schools. It called for the Holy See to use its moral authority to condemn discrimination against homosexual children, or children raised by same-sex couples.

Church teaching holds that life begins at conception. The Vatican, which therefore opposes abortion and artificial contraception, calls for respect for gays, but considers homosexual acts to be “intrinsically disordered.” The Vatican has a history of diplomatic confrontation with the United Nations over such issues.

Tomasi said the call to reconsider abortion ran against the UN treaty’s own objectives to protect the life of children before and after birth, and he accused pro-gay rights and gay marriage advocacy groups of having “reinforced an ideological line” with the committee.

Benyam Mezmur, a committee member and Ethiopian academic on children’s legal rights, rejected any such criticism and said the committee report was balanced and was aimed purely at ensuring the treaty was implemented.

“The Committee on the Rights of the Child is not in the business of saying ‘Well said.’ We are in the business of saying ‘Well done.’ We want to see concrete measures,” he said in a phone interview from Geneva.

Austen Ivereigh, coordinator of Catholic Voices, a church advocacy group, said the report was a “shocking display of ignorance and high-handedness.”

He said it failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made in recent years and that the Catholic Church in many places is now considered a leader in safeguarding children. And he noted that the committee seemed unable to grasp the distinction between the responsibilities and jurisdiction of the Holy See, and local churches on the ground.

“It takes no account of the particularities of the Holy See, treating it as if it were the HQ of a multinational corporation,” he said in an email.

But victims groups hailed the report as a wake-up call to secular law enforcement officials to investigate abuse and any cover-ups, and prosecute church officials who are still protecting predator priests.

“This report gives hope to the hundreds of thousands of deeply wounded and still suffering clergy sex abuse victims across the world,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the main U.S. victim’s group SNAP. “Now it’s up to secular officials to follow the U.N.’s lead and step in to safeguard the vulnerable because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so.”

8 Responses to Updated: Vatican policies allowed priests to rape children, UN report says

  1. Sylvia says:

    What a terrible shame those who penned the report could not manage to restrict themselves to addressing the issue at hand, specifically clerical sexual abuse and cover-up. I personally am not impressed that this report was used to denigrate the moral teachings of the Church through its attempts to, for example, force ‘the Church’ to not only condone but advocate abortion.

    Those who follow this site know that I will never ever defend clerical sexual predators and those who tolerate, enable or cover-up for them. Never.

    I have deep trouble however when people ride the coat-tails of the child sex abuse scandal in the Church to advance their own agendas. Unfortunately I believe that that is what has happened here. A shame. I will leave it at that.

    • Lina says:

      I understand where you coming from Sylvia.

      I may be wrong but I may understand why the U.N. did it because of the research that was done and like or not Sylvia the Catholic Church played a part in it.

      ‘The Vatican took the unusual step of commissioning the surveys ahead of a major meeting of bishops that Pope Francis has called for October to discuss family issues.’

      I’m sure any one who goes the Church heard and saw those questionnaires.

      The results are coming slowly in, so far Vatican surveys find Catholics rejecting many Catholic Church’s teachings such as sex rules as heartless and outdated.

      “German and Swiss bishops reported the results of its flock: The church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce were rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics, who nevertheless said they were active in parish life and considered their faith vitally important.”


  2. Bob says:

    I agree Sylvia. A very great disservice was done to victims of clerical abuse by attaching a laundry list of unrelated matters. One wonders if the UN also demanded the Vatican accept the 39 articles, ordain Ian Paisley, and cut the sacraments from seven to two.

    What would otherwise have been a stinging indictment has been reduced to something more easily dismissed as “culture wars.”

  3. PJ says:

    The title on the article and the first paragraphs really highlight the rape angle and are the attention-getting headline we need. It’s about time someone actually stated what the UN report states about the sexual abuse. In addition, the so called defrocking of 400 collars for sexual abuse in the past 2 years is window dressing to make that church and popesy look good…think about it, 400! Yet nothing is said if these 400 were reported to the police or whether charges were laid. A drop in the bucket and nothing more. Don’t turn this article into a drag em down discussion on the other topics. We need to stay focussed on the sexual abuse part and keep it in the forefront.

  4. JG says:

    We’ve been asking for this for a long time! This is the “rookie” going after the “pros”….I think we need to focus on the important part of their report, as PJ says.
    It is certainly not perfect, trying to take on “all” the issues. I am certainly curious to know the background of the members of this committee. That will come, I’m sure.
    The church has been avoiding any and “all” the questions, for so long! I can feel the nervousness and the frenzy at the same time! The contenders having to face the “Champions” for the title, the crown…
    I don’t expect it to be perfect the first time!
    The church has taken 2000 years to screw it up!
    I’ll be patient with this process!…but right now it needs three cheers just for getting into the “real”questions!
    It is not over yet…

  5. Sylvia says:

    I went hunting for and got an posted a copy of the report. Here it is:

    31 January 2014: UN Committee on the Rights of the Child re Vatican compliance with Convention on the Rights of the Child

    Those familiar with the convention will know that it is written in such fashion that it can be interpreted in a variety of ways – I recall quite clearly that there was concern in many quarters as to the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of interpretation.

    When the Vatican signed on it did so with “reservations.” These then are the Reservations and declarations which were made upon ratification 20 April 1990:

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989.
    Holy See

    Reservations and declarations made upon ratification :

    Reservations :

    a) [The Holy See] interprets the phrase “Family planning education and services” in article 24.2, to mean only those methods of family planning which it considers morally acceptable, that is, the natural methods of family planning.

    b) [The Holy See] interprets the articles of the Convention in a way which safeguards the primary and inalienable rights of parents, in particular insofar as these rights concern education (articles 13 and 28), religion (article 14), association with others (article 15) and privacy (article 16).

    c) [The Holy See declares] that the application of the Convention be compatible in practice with the particular nature of the Vatican City State and of the sources of its objective law (art. 1, Law of 7 June 1929, nr. 11) and, in consideration of its limited extent, with its legislation in the matters of citizenship, access and residence.

    Declaration :

    The Holy See regards the present Convention as a proper and laudable instrument aimed at protecting the rights and interests of children, who are “that precious treasure given to each generation as a challenge to its wisdom and humanity” (Pope John Paul II, 26 April 1984).

    The Holy See recognizes that the Convention represents an enactment of principles previously adopted by the United Nations, and once effective as a ratified instrument, will safeguard the rights of the child before as well as after birth, as expressly affirmed in the “Declaration of the Rights of the Child” [Res. 136 (XIV) and restated in the ninth preambular paragraph of the Convention. The Holy See remains confident that the ninth preambular paragraph will serve as the perspective through which the rest of the Convention will be interpreted, in conformity with article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 23 May 1969.

    By acceding to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Holy See intends to give renewed expression to its constant concern for the well-being of children and families. In consideration of its singular nature and position, the Holy See, in acceding to this Convention, does not intend to prescind in any way from its specific mission which is of a religious and moral character.

    SOURCE : Multilateral Treaties deposited with the Secretary-General, Status as at 31 December 1991, United Nations, New York, 1992, pp.200-201.

  6. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    A couple of thoughts are going through my mind as I read this article. The first stems from Austen Ivereigh’s statement “shocking display of ignorance and high-handedness”. If I were in conversation with this person, I would point out that the Vatican, which obviously wants to retain a seat in the U.N., has been the first to display “high-handedness” in being fourteen years late submitting a promised and expected report.
    My second thought was regarding Ivereigh’s statement that ” it (the UN report) failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made in recent years, and that the Catholic Church in many places is now considered a leader in safe-guarding children”.
    I take exception to the tone of this last thought. Ivereigh insinuates that the Church should be commended for taking strides to deal with sexual abuse of children by clergy. I do not accept for one minute this thought!
    The Vatican has addressed the issue of sexual abuse only because it is no longer kept a deep, dark secret. They didn’t take the iniciative, it was forced on them by hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
    Let’s call a spade a spade here. Mike.

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