“Vatican tries to draw line under clerical sex abuse scandals at UN hearing” & related articles

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Torture committee dismisses Holy See’s argument that its obligation to enforce UN treaty stops at boundaries of city state

The Guardian       theguardian.com

Monday 5 May 2014 15.46 BST

in Rome

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's ambassador to the UN

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told the UN committee against torture: ‘The Holy See intends to focus exclusively on Vatican city state.’ Photograph: Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA

The Vatican has been given another hostile interrogation by a United Nations committee over its record on clerical sex abuse.

One member after another of the committee against torture brushed aside the Holy See’s argument that its obligation to enforce the UN convention against torture stopped at the boundaries of the world’s smallest country, the Vatican city state. Instead, they demanded the pope’s representative give answers to a long list of questions about the treatment of sex abuse claims against clergy throughout the world.

The Holy See, which long predates the city state, is a sovereign entity without territory. It is as the Holy See that the Catholic leadership maintains diplomatic relations and signs treaties such as the convention against torture.

But Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s UN ambassador in Geneva, told the committee: “The Holy See intends to focus exclusively on Vatican city state.”

The American expert on the committee, Felice Gaer, made plain her disagreement. She said the Holy See had to “show us that, as a party to the convention, you have a system in place to prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment when it is acquiesced to by anyone under the effective control of the officials of the Holy See and the institutions that operate in the Vatican city state”.

Gaer called the line church officials sought to draw between the treaty obligations of the city state and the Holy See as an “alleged distinction”.

She demanded responses to claims that Italian bishops had been told they were not under an obligation to report suspected cases of sex abuse to the civil authorities, as well as to allegations that the Vatican had given refuge to a papal envoy accused of sex abuse. In January, a Polish prosecutor said Warsaw had turned down a request for the extradition of Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who faces accusations of sex abuse in his Poland and in the Dominican Republic.

But Gaer, the director of an American-Jewish human rights organisation, the Jacob Blaustein Institute, said the church’s doctrine on abortion was an area of legitimate concern for the committee. She called for the Vatican to comment on allegations that its blanket stigmatisation of abortion had led to nine-year-old girls being required to give birth.

In February, the Vatican reacted with outrage when another UN panel argued that children around the world were suffering from Catholic teachings, including those on abortion and birth control. The Vatican said comments by the committee on the rights of the child constituted an attack on religious freedom.

The issue of sex abuse was raised on Monday by committee members from Mauritius, Morocco and by George Tugushi, the ombudsman of Georgia. He welcomed a new committee to advise the pope, saying it could “begin to change the climate of impunity”. But, he added: “It cannot be considered in our opinion as a substitute for a functioning investigative system of the Holy See’s or Vatican city state’s own.”

Tugushi also questioned the treatment of Paolo Gabriel, the previous pope’s butler who was arrested for leaking papal correspondence. Gabriel said his eyesight had suffered from being kept in a cell where the light was kept on 24 hours a day and that he was given no opportunity to exercise.

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At UN, Vatican sex abuse compared with torture

Yahoo News

05 May 2014

Associated Press

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See (Vatican) to the Office of the United Nations in Geneva, delivers his statement during the UN torture committee hearing on the Vatican, at the headquarters of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the Palais Wilson, in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, May 5, 2014. The UN Committee Against Torture hears the Holy See for the first time to consider whether the church's handling of child sexual abuse complaints has violated its obligations against subjecting minors to torture and to hear the Vatican on its efforts to stamp out child sex abuse by priests. (AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi)

GENEVA (AP) — A U.N. committee compared the Vatican’s handling of the global priest sex abuse scandal with torture Monday, raising the possibility that its failure to investigate clergy and their superiors could have broader legal implications.

But the Vatican’s top envoy in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, claimed that the Holy See was getting its house in order after a decade-long effort to deal with a global priest sex abuse scandal.

“There has been, in several documentable areas, stabilization and even a decline of cases in pedophilia,” he told a committee of experts in charge of the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the Vatican ratified in 2002.

At the Holy See’s first appearance before the committee, experts mainly peppered the Vatican with tough questions to be answered Tuesday. For instance, they asked why the report on its implementation of the treaty was almost a decade late, and why the Vatican believes its responsibility for protecting against torture only applies within tiny Vatican City, a nation of less than 1,000 inhabitants.

“I wonder if you could tell us how you insure that the criminal prohibition against torture in Vatican City covers all individuals for whom the Holy See has jurisdiction,” asked committee member Felice Gaer.

Experts said a finding by the committee that the systematic abuse amounted to torture could have drastic legal implications for the church as it continues to battle civil litigation around the world resulting from the decades-long scandal that saw tens of thousands of children raped and molested by priests.

Katherine Gallagher, a human rights attorney for the New York-based nonprofit legal group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, said such a finding could open the floodgates to abuse lawsuits dating back decades because there are no statutes of limitations on torture cases. Gallagher, whose group represents Vatican sex scandal victims, said rape can legally constitute a form of torture because of the elements of intimidation, coercion, and exploitation of power.

“The torture committee’s questions really were about sexual violence and rape, and they made it clear that these acts fall within the definition of torture and the Vatican’s obligations under the torture convention,” she said after the hearing.

“A recognition by the torture committee that this is one of the most significant crimes could really open up a new level of prosecutions and accountability,” she added.

Pope Francis has said he takes personal responsibility for the “evil” of clergy sex abuse, and has sought forgiveness from victims. He has insisted that the church must be even bolder in its efforts to protect children.

On Saturday, members of the Pope’s sexual abuse advisory board said they will develop “clear and effective” protocols to hold bishops and other church authorities accountable if they fail to report suspected abuse or protect children from pedophile priests.

Francis announced the creation of the commission last December and named its members in March after coming under initial criticism for having ignored the sex abuse issue.

The U.N. committee, which is composed of independent experts, will issue its final observations and recommendations May 23.

In January, a U.N. committee that monitors a key treaty on children’s rights accused the Holy See of systematically placing its own interests over those of victims. That committee rejected the Vatican’s argument that it had limited geographical responsibility.

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Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

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U.N. committee on torture grills Vatican on sexual abuse

VATICAN CITY/GENEVA Mon May 5, 2014 10:20am EDT

(Reuters) – A U.N. committee on torture grilled the Vatican on the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse crisis on Monday, urging a permanent investigation system to end a “climate of impunity” prevailing for decades.

In a two-hour hearing in Geneva, the Committee Against Torture launched a barrage of questions to the Vatican delegation, asking about past policy decisions, the juridical distinction between the Holy See and Vatican City, and information on specific cases.

The Vatican, which will issue its formal answers on Tuesday, said the Church has been “doing its own house cleaning” for 10 years, was determined to protect children and that measures put in place have led to a decline in cases of sexual abuse of children by priests.

George Tugushi, a committee member from Georgia, said a recently formed international commission advising Pope Francis on how to deal with sexual abuse, was a very positive step but not enough.

“The commission may need help to ensure all cases are reported properly and begin to change the climate of impunity but it cannot be considered in our opinion as a substitute for a functioning investigation system,” he told the Vatican delegation headed by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.

Another committee member, Satyabhoosun Gupt Domah of Mauritius, asked if the Holy See was taking steps to eliminate the “chemistry that creates the conditions” for sexual abuse of children by priests.

The Holy See’s position is its adherence to the U.N. Convention Against Torture applies only to the territory of Vatican City. Tomasi said while the Holy See can be a moral force, the “agent of justice” for crimes committed by Catholics was the local state where the crime was committed.

“It should be stressed, particularly in light of much confusion, that the Holy See has no jurisdiction … over every member of the Catholic Church,” he said in opening remarks.

SPLITTING HAIRS?

Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) accused the Vatican of ducking responsibility. “They are splitting hairs when they should be embracing the victims and stopping the sexual violence,” she said.

The committee’s chief rapporteur, Felice Gaer of the United States, told the Vatican delegation that its position “seems to reflect an intention for a significant portion of the actions and omissions of Holy See officials be excluded from consideration by this committee, and this troubles us.”

Gaer and Tugushi presented dozens of questions to the delegation, asking them to respond to reports presented to the committee by non-government organizations.

“We have received numerous allegations of intimidation of witnesses and shifting of finances to avoid payment (of compensation),” she said.

Tomasi told Reuters Television that the reduction in the number of cases of abuse showed that “effective” action taken by the Church was working.

“I think that in this kind of situation there will never be enough done. The damage has been done, reparation has to continue,” he said.

The Church in the United States had invested $2.5 billion in compensation for the victims and that “most of the abuser priests that we know of have been defrocked,” he said.

Church groups defended the Catholic Church’s efforts to stem abuse and criticized committee members who said the Church’s opposition to abortion had harmed women.

“Attacking the Church’s moral and religious beliefs violates the religious liberty of the Church, a human right which the United Nations affirms,” said Ashley McGuire of Catholic Voices.

“Over the last decade, the Church has put into place reforms and protocols so strong that they are now being modeled by other institutions, like public schools …,” she said.

Last February, a U.N. committee on the rights of the child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes. The Vatican called the report unfair and ideologically slanted.

(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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United Nations grills Vatican over the global priest sex abuse scandal

The Indian Express

May 5, 2014 1:27 pm

Associated Press | Geneva |

vatican-480

Pope Francis meets members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, at the Vatican on Friday, April 11, 2014. Pope Francis asked for forgiveness from people who were sexually abused by priests.

The Vatican is bracing for its second grilling at the United Nations this year over the global priest sex abuse scandal, this time from the standpoint of torture and inhuman treatment.

An UN committee begins meeting on Monday in Geneva to examine whether the Vatican’s record on child protection violates the UN Convention Against Torture, which it ratified in 2002. The Vatican argues its responsibility for enforcing the UN treaty against torture only applies within the confines of the tiny Vatican City, which has fewer than 1,000 inhabitants in an area less than half a square-kilometer in size, making it the smallest country in the world.

But a UN committee that monitors a key treaty on children’s rights blasted the Holy See in January, accusing it of systematically placing its own interests over those of victims by enabling priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children through its own policies and code of silence. And that committee rejected a similar argument the Vatican made trying to limit its responsibility.

If an UN committee finds the abuse amounts to torture and inhuman treatment, that could open the floodgates to abuse  lawsuits dating back decades because there are no statute of limitations on torture cases, said Katherine Gallagher, a human rights attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal group based in New York. The group submitted reports on behalf of victims to both committees urging closer UN scrutiny of the church record on child abuse.

Gallagher said that rape legally can constitute a form of torture because of the elements of intimidation, coercion, and exploitation of power, and that it is a “disingenuous argument” for the Vatican to assert its only responsibility for the anti-torture treaty lies within Vatican City.

When they signed the treaty, Vatican officials said they were only doing so on behalf of Vatican City not the Holy See, which is the governing structure of the universal church.

The Vatican’s spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio on Friday that “its legal responsibility for implementation regards the territory and competences of Vatican City State.”

He said the church hopes the UN committee reviewing the anti-torture treaty will avoid being “reduced to tools of ideological pressure rather than a necessary stimulus towards the desired progress in promoting respect for human rights.”

But the stakes couldn’t be higher, said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. She said hundreds of children are still being abused today despite the Vatican’s recent “lofty words” that don’t amount to preventive action.

SNAP in 2013 separately asked the International Criminal Court to investigate former Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican  cardinals for possible crimes against humanity over clergy abuse. The court, based in The Hague, rejected the request.

“So much is

at stake —the safety of children all across the globe,” she told reporters Friday at the U.N. in Geneva. “We don’t know what will stop the Vatican officials. All we can do is to keep speaking out.”

Pope Francis has said he takes personal responsibility for the “evil” of clergy sex abuse, and he has sought forgiveness from victims and said the church must be even bolder in efforts to protect children. On Saturday, members of the Pope’s sexual abuse advisory board said they will develop “clear and effective” protocols to hold bishops and other church authorities accountable if they fail to report suspected abuse or protect children from pedophile priests.

Francis announced the creation of the commission last December and named its members in March after coming under initial criticism for having ignored the sex abuse issue.

The UN committee, which is composed of independent experts, not other UN member states, will issue its final observations and recommendations May 23.

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Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984 United Nations)

3 Responses to “Vatican tries to draw line under clerical sex abuse scandals at UN hearing” & related articles

  1. Sylvia says:

    I decided I needed to look up the wording of the Convention. I did so, and have posted it at the bottom of the articles.

    My conclusion is that this is nonsense. Yes, I understand that child sex abuse could be understand as ‘torture’ in the broad sense of the word, but — this is ridiculous.

    If the object of the UN exercise here is the defense of children why is the UN not going after every country which allows child molesters to roam the streets unfettered and free because of a statute of limitations on child sex offences?

    Why, for that matter, does it not go after every nation which fails to publicly disclose the name and address of every convicted child molester in the country?

    I could go on and on, but – that’s what first came to mind when I heard about this business of the UN going after the Vatican by defining child sex abuse in such fashion as to fit the Convention Against Torture…. or vice-versa.

    I think you know very well that I do not and will not defend the indefensible. Neither do I jump aboard band wagons without first trying to find our where the wagon is heading.

    Is this the answer?

    Experts said a finding by the committee that the systematic abuse amounted to torture could have drastic legal implications for the church as it continues to battle civil litigation around the world resulting from the decades-long scandal that saw tens of thousands of children raped and molested by priests.

    Katherine Gallagher, a human rights attorney for the New York-based nonprofit legal group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, said such a finding could open the floodgates to abuse lawsuits dating back decades because there are no statutes of limitations on torture cases

    Is that the end game here? Lawsuits?!

    Not an ability to put molesters who are alive behind bars?

    And not an ability to do likewise for those who cover-up for/enable molesters?

    No, it’s to sue. In many countries there are statutes of limitations which negate suing in child sex abuse cases, – but, there is no statute of limitations in torture cases!

    So, a little redefining of terms and “the floodgates” will open?

    I personally don’t believe there should be a statute of limitations for the crime of child sex abuse. I don’t believe that sexual predators should be able to elude justice and roam the streets – and sanctuaries – with impunity because their victims could not (stereotypically) find the courage to come forward sooner.

    This action does nothing to change or attempt to change the laws of the land in those countries where a statute of limitations allow child sexual predators to elude justice and children are willfully left at risk.

    If I understand it correctly a ‘favourable’ ruling will allow initiation of lawsuits against various dioceses in those countries/areas where a statute of limitations would otherwise prevent such action.

    It will not allow the initiation of charges and possible conviction and imprisonment of a suspect clerical sexual predator in those countries/areas where a statute of limitations has lapsed by the time the complainant has come forward.

    As I say, I have trouble with the whole thing.
    .

    does not seem to be The Vatican can not change the laws of the land around the world. But

    Honestly, I firmly believe that if a child molester is alive when his victim (s) find the courage to come forward the police should be contacted and when there is sufficient evidence to proceed charges should be charged, and he should thervy be legally idnetified as what he is

    Because various statutes of limitations prevent suing and there is no statute of limitations on torture cases.

  2. JG says:

    Money $$$$$ seems to have been the main motivator behind any church action. This could be the incentive for the church to finally take this seriously, if they fear a barrage of court actions across the globe.
    The church may even “find” itself without the burden of all the wealth…
    They may even gain Power by losing the power they now believe they have.
    They could easily and humbly submit to that view if they believe in “Resurrection”… instead of hiding in the Vatican like well dressed rats!
    Unless we all agree that it is nothing more than a financial institution with a bank account to protect at all cost.
    In the end, it appears they will have to be “forced” to changes their ways, however it gets done, and it may be done in such a “mysterious way”…
    One child is worth all of it…and we don’t need to blame the laws of the world before the “Heart of the Church”…
    I find it ironic or even enlightening at this stage that “torture” has entered the vocabulary!
    In the image of the “Tortured” on the Cross, to witness the pain of the abused children…

    jg

  3. Sylvia says:

    On this we disagree JG. This all boils down to to a situation where it is deemed that “the end justifies the means.”

    I am not at all adverse to the one and only end attainable here (every diocese being held financially accountable for the sex abuse perpetrated by any of its priests). I do have trouble with the means.

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