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A top Vatican official has released statistics for detailing how it has disciplined priests who have abused children.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s representative to the United Nations, told the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva that, in the last 10 years, 848 priests have been laicised and 2,572 had been removed from ministry.
Archbishop Tomasi was speaking on Tuesday, the second day of his testimony, when he was repeatedly pressed to reveal details of the abuse cases that had been referred to Rome and how they had been dealt with.
The Holy See is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, and like all signatory states is required periodically to present a report on its implementation.
The archbishop was repeatedly challenged about what the Vatican done to ensure that abuse allegations were investigated, that perpetrators were punished and that cases were reported to the civil authorities. In response he said that the Holy See is making “every effort” to combat the “plague and scourge” of child abuse and “condemns torture, including for those who are tortured and killed before they are born”.
The archbishop told the committee that, between 2004 and 2013, the Vatican had received more than 3,400 “credible accusations” of abuse. In 2013 alone, 401 cases had been referred to Rome. The vast majority of abusive priests who were not laicised were required to undertake a life of prayer and penance. Challenged on this point, Archbishop Tomasi insisted this lesser sanction still amounted to disciplinary action and that care was taken to ensure that such abusers did not have contact with children.
Earlier, Archbishop Tomasi insisted the Church was making progress in dealing with abuse, saying: “There has been in several documentable areas a stabilisation and even a decline in cases of abuse of minors … Measures undertaken in the last 10 years on the part both of the Holy See and local churches are bringing about a positive result.”
It is the second time that a UN committee has sought to hold the Holy See to account for child sexual abuse. In February, Archbishop Tomasi appeared before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and employed similar arguments.
In both instances, NGOs representing abuse survivors and human rights made representations to the UN committees claiming that the Holy See is culpable for abuse because of its many failures to act against abusive priests. In submissions to the Committee Against Torture, the NGOs, which include Snap – the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, claimed that child sex abuse amounted to torture.
The UN Convention Against Torture defines it as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession … at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi suggested that to include the sexual abuse of minors in a discussion about torture would, to unbiased observers, appear “deceptive and forced”.
As in the previous UN hearing, Archbishop Tomasi insisted that the Holy See has sovereignty only over the Vatican City State, which has just a few hundred inhabitants, though he acknowledged a “moral” obligation of the Church at large to protect children.