21 September 2017, The Tablet

McAleese criticises Vatican over UN children’s charter

The former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, has said it is “essential” that a row between the Holy See and the United Nations over the Convention on the Rights of the Child is resolved, for the sake of children.

In an address to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, Professor McAleese revealed that the dispute between the Holy See and the UN Convention’s monitoring body, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), relates to obligations undertaken by the Holy See when it became a State Party to the 1989 Convention.

Her paper, entitled “The Holy See and the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – is a once promising journey now going backwards?” criticised the Vatican for replacing its commitment to implement the UN Convention in the universal Church with an undertaking to enforce it exclusively in Vatican City State.

The Holy See says this interpretation of its State Party obligations is incorrect. It has argued that it is only obliged to implement the Convention “within the tiny territory of the Vatican City State which has no more than a handful of children”. Outside of that territory, the Holy See says its obligations are fulfilled by encouraging people of goodwill to support the Convention.

The CRC has indicated that it expects the Holy See to make changes, where necessary, to aspects of church teaching and canon law which stand in the way of the Church’s compliance with the treaty.

Professor McAleese expressed surprise that the dispute “about so fundamental a matter should have erupted some 20 years after ratification”. She stressed that “a rapprochement” between the CRC and the Holy See is essential and in the best interests of children.

She also highlighted that church teaching on corporal punishment and illegitimacy had been misleadingly presented by the Holy See in its negotiations. On the latter, Professor McAleese said the term illegitimacy, which the Holy See said it did not use, is found in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1139.

“Three other related canons make distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate children. Canon law does not acknowledge the equality of legitimate and illegitimate children,” she said.  

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