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The Church in the World
A United Nations committee has severely criticised the Holy See for playing down and concealing from civil authorities the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children around the world by Catholic priests. In a scathing new report released on Wednesday it is demanding sweeping changes in canon law and church protocols.
“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of crimes committed, has not taken 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 was issued by the UN committee of independent experts in Geneva charged with monitoring compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an international treaty the Holy See signed in 1990.
“The committee recommends that the Holy See undertake a comprehensive review of its normative framework, in particular canon law, with a view to ensuring its full compliance with the convention,” said the 16-page report. The committee drafted it after questioning Holy See officials on 16 January over its compliance with the CRC. Its conclusions and recommendations are non-binding.
“It almost seems as if [the document] had already been prepared before the committee’s meeting with the Holy See delegation, which offered detailed and precise responses to the [report’s] various points,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi SC, the man who led the delegation. He told Vatican Radio the views of the Holy See delegation stated last month did not appear in the new report or “seem not to have been given serious consideration”.
Nonetheless, the Holy See press office said the UN committee’s report would be “submitted to a thorough study and examination”, while “taking into consideration the public interactive debate with the committee” last month. In a communiqué on Wednesday it reiterated the Holy See’s “commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child”, especially “according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine”.
But it expressed “regret” that parts of the report “attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom”.
The UN report calls for changes to Church laws on abortion, artificial contraception and the free exercise of homosexuality – issues adopted in the CRC under the article “Family planning education and services”. When the Holy See signed the treaty in 1990, it did so with a “reservation” on that article, saying it interpreted it “to mean only those methods of family planning which it considers morally acceptable, that is, the natural methods”.
“Non-governmental organisations interested in homosexuality, gay marriage and other issues” were probably able to “reinforce an ideological line” that appears in the UN committee’s report, Archbishop Tomasi said.
The report, like the convention, covers a wide variety of children’s rights issues. But it is the section on the Holy See’s handling of sexual-abuse cases that is most damning. “The committee is particularly concerned that in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed preservation of the reputation of the Church and protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests, as observed by several national commissions of inquiry,” it said.
The committee makes a number of specific recommendations. One is that the new commission on child protection that Pope Francis established “investigate independently all cases of child sexual abuse as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them”. On 31 January, at a plenary meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis told the meeting: “We are looking at the possibility of joining the specific commission for the protection of children that I have instituted to your dicastery.”
The UN report also calls on the Holy See to do the following: “immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes”; “ensure a transparent sharing of all archives which can be used to hold the abusers accountable as well as all those who concealed their crimes and knowingly placed offenders in contact with children”; “amend canon law in order for child sexual abuse to be considered as crimes and not as ‘delicts against morals’ and repeal all provisions which may impose an obligation of silence on the victims and on all those that become aware of such crimes”; “establish clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation to law enforcement authorities”; and to ensure that anyone working under the authority of the Holy See is made aware of their reporting obligations and of the fact that in case of conflict, these obligations prevail over canon law provisions”.