Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Tortured reasoning: the UN case against the Vatican

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 06, 2014

In the Wall Street Journal, two former officials of the US Justice department make a powerful argument against the claim that the Vatican should be held responsible, under the UN Convention against Torture, for sexual abuse by Catholic priests. David Rivken and Lee Casey see the obvious wisdom in the Vatican’s argument that the Holy See exercises legal control only over the tiny territory of the Vatican City-state, and crimes in other countries are the responsibility of the local governments. But there are other important points to be made.

First, while sexual abuse is reprehensible, it isn’t torture, as that term is ordinarily understood. If the UN expands the definition of torture to encompass other forms of cruelty, it could erode support for the existing pact, which is based on an international accord that this one particular form of behavior—torture—should be stopped.

Critics of the Church charge that sexual abuse by priests was widespread because of Catholic teachings and Vatican policies. But the UN would be setting a bold and dangerous precedent if it claimed that religious beliefs promulgated in one place (in this case the Vatican) were the cause of criminal acts in another.

Finally, does the UN want to be in the business of deciding which religious doctrines are acceptable, and which encourage anti-social behavior? (Some people consider circumcision a cruel procedure; would the UN commission entertain a claim that it is torture?) The Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the groups pressing the UN for action against the Vatican, argues that the Church engages in “psychological torture” by banning contraception. Rivlin and Casey observe:

By that preposterous logic, any religious faith—or secular doctrine, for that matter—could be condemned for practicing torture if it seeks to motivate adherents to lead their lives in particular ways.

Which means that, since all religions try to motivate individual behavior, all religions can potentially be classified as forms of torture.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Jun. 26, 2017 2:38 PM ET USA

    And the attacks on fidelity to the Gospel continue their course under the current pontificate. Clearly, the Church is experiencing a grave crisis, a crisis that became prominent when the hermeneutic of rupture was used to interpret the Second Vatican Council. A crisis that appears to be currently promoted by the pope himself. What the resolution of this crisis will bring is not clear at the moment, but I cannot see anything good coming out of it, at least in the short term.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Jun. 24, 2017 8:25 AM ET USA

    This pontificate seems to be taking a page out of the Obama play book. As he was determined to reduce the U.S. to being just one nation among many, so does this papal administration seem to see the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This rough ride is getting rougher. Lord Jesus, come!

  • Posted by: shrink - Jun. 23, 2017 1:55 PM ET USA

    The New Catholic Church, with its first Pope, Francis, has been methodical in dismantling the firewalls installed by P6, JP2, and B16 against the Cultural Marxists. As true of all Marxists, they will never openly declare their intentions until they have complete control. The CMs also know that when it comes to moral destruction, behavior precedes belief—e.g., a boy fornicates long enough, and a boy will begin to believe that it's part of the faith, as the priest stands by mute but smiling yes.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jun. 23, 2017 1:37 PM ET USA

    Even if contraception were not gravely immoral, natural family planning (NFP) techniques would still be highly justified on medical and scientific grounds. On medical grounds: every toxin or potential toxin, mechanical contraption, or barrier has the potential for unintended consequences. NFP has no, nor it can have, undesirable side effects. On scientific grounds: NFP has been demonstrated for more than 20,000 women to be 99%+ effective at regulating natural births (Ryder, BMJ, 1993, p. 723-6).

  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 23, 2017 12:04 PM ET USA

    The Holy Spirit will never let the Church fall into error, which doesn't mean that the gates of the netherworld would not make attempts to prevail.