The United Nations called on the Vatican today to immediately remove all clergy known or suspected of child abuse, and turn them over to their respective local authorities. Their Committee on the Rights of the Child — composed of 18 experts, including both academics and activists for child welfare — accused the Catholic Church of forcing victims into silence, preventing clerics from reporting crimes and moving abusers around in efforts to cover up their crimes. In addition, the UN is demanding that the Holy See make their archives documenting the abuse available for further scrutiny by 2017.
“The real challenge for the Vatican is not to get defensive, but to be open and demonstrate what they are going to do to give confidence back to not only the Catholic community, but the community generally,” said the head of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council in Australia, Francis Sullivan.
The Vatican responded immediately to the United Nations, saying the Church was committed to protecting children and that they would thoroughly examine the UN’s report. But their response took little heed of Sullivan’s advice. The Holy See made much about the UN’s attempt to interfere with religious teachings by asking the Vatican to take a stand against the harassment, discrimination, and violence against children based on their sexual orientation, and to consider abortion in the cases where pregnancy poses a risk on the life and health of pregnant girls.
The Vatican called these requests an attack against their teachings on “the dignity of a human person.” Some even said that introducing such recommendations “weakened” the case for fighting child abuse within the Catholic Church. Unbelievable.
With regard to those other cases of attacks on this very dignity of human persons — err, child abuse — the Vatican responded, “The Holy See takes note of the concluding observations on its reports, which will be submitted to a thorough study and examination… according to international law and practice.” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Holy See’s delegation to the UN, defended the Catholic Church, saying that it had done more for protecting children than any other institution or even state.
The Pope disagrees, acknowledging the sexual abuse of minors as “the shame of the church.” What we know paints a very different picture than the one Tomasi sees. In Australia, cases date back to the 1970s, and affect over 5,000 victims. In Canada, there are over 10,000 self-reported victims. In the United States, a criminal investigation found some 11,000 victims. Ireland is home to some 14,500 victims. The Netherlands reports “several tens of thousands” of victims. The count for Germany is the hundreds. In these places, the number of responsible priests ranges between the tens and the hundreds. Despite this, the Vatican has consistently declined to make their files on these cases available.
The report called out the Vatican for offering compensation to victim’s families in exchange for their silence, a practice that enables abusers to remain above the law. Though the Catholic Church in United States has implemented some changes like background checks and the requirement that all abuse allegations must be reported to law enforcement, no senior Catholic Church officials in the country have been held accountable. There was a conviction in 2012 of a cover-up, but it was eventually overturned. Victims in other nations have been even less fortunate.
Unfortunately, the report from the UN is not binding, meaning that there is no way to force the Vatican to comply. For their part, the Vatican seems to believe that the committee was swayed by gay-rights activists and sees the report as “anti-Catholic.”
For his part, Pope Francis is making an attempt to restore the community’s faith in the Vatican. In December, he created a commission to oversee abuse cases, keep him abreast of the progress of investigations, and come up with initiatives to combat abuse internally.
You can read the full text of the Convention Rights of the Child here.
Header image by United Nations Photo.