Note on UN, Holy See, Child Rights Committee
by Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J.
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After the large number of articles and comments that followed the publication of the recommendations of the audit Committee of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it seems useful to make a few comments and clarifications.
It is not appropriate to speak of confrontation “between the UN and the Vatican”. The United Nations is a reality that is very important to humanity today.
The Holy See has always provided strong moral support to the United Nations as a meeting place among all the nations, to foster peace in the world and the growth of the community of peoples in harmony, mutual respect and mutual enrichment. Countless documents and addresses of the Holy See at [the UN’s] highest levels and the intense participation of the Holy See’s representatives in the activities of many UN bodies attest to this.
The highest authorities of the UN have ever been aware of the importance of the moral and religious support of the Holy See for the growth of the community of nations: so they invited Popes to visit the organization and direct their words to the General Assembly. In the footsteps of Paul VI, John Paul II (twice) and Benedict XVI have done so. In short, the United Nations, at the highest levels, appreciate and desire the support of the Holy See and positive dialogue with it. So does the Holy See, for the good of the human family. This is the perspective in which the present questions ought to be raised.
International Conventions promoted by the United Nations are one of the ways in which the international community seeks to promote the dynamic of the search for peace and the promotion of the rights of the human person in specific fields. States are free to join. The Holy See/Vatican City State has adhered to those it considers most important in the light of its activities and its mission. (It should be noted that adherence to a Convention entails a commitment to participation, reports, etc. , which require staff and resources – for which reason the Holy See must choose [to adhere to] a limited number of Conventions, commensurate with its possibilities for participation). Among these, in a timely manner, the Holy See joined – among the first in the world – the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in the light of the great work done in this field, in many different forms ( educational, charitable , etc. . ) and for so long, by the Catholic community in the world, and in light of the Magisterium of the Church in this area, inspired by the behavior of Jesus described in the Gospels.
Naturally, the operations of the UN are vast and complex, and like any large organization – and precisely because of its international and as far as possible universal nature – embraces very different persons, positions and voices. It is therefore no wonder that in the vast world of the UN different visions shall encounter and even collide with each other. Therefore, in order that the overall result be positive, a great willingness to be open to dialogue is needed, along with attentive respect for essential rules and procedures, and in preparing activities.
For the verification of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child there is a committee based in Geneva, which holds two sessions a year, and which receives the reports of the different Party States, studies them and discusses them with the delegations sent by them, and formulates recommendations for better implementation of the provisions of the Convention. The recommendations made by the Committee are often quite sparse and of relative weight. It is not by chance, that there is rarely heard a worldwide echo of the recommendations in the international press, even in the case of countries where problems of human rights and [problems regarding] children are known to be grave.
In the case of reports submitted to the Committee by the Holy See in recent months on the implementation of the Convention and the additional Protocols: ample written responses were given to the questions subsequently formulated by the Committee, after which followed a day for the hearing of a special delegation of the Holy See in Geneva on January 16. Now there has come, on February 5, the publication of the Committee 's concluding observations and recommendations . This [publication] has aroused extensive reaction and response.
What is there to observe in this regard?
First, the Holy See 's adherence to the Convention was motivated by a historical commitment of the universal Church and the Holy See for the sake of the children. Anyone who does not realize what this [commitment] represents for the sake of the children in the world today, is simply unfamiliar with this dimension of reality. The Holy See, therefore, as the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin has said, continues its efforts to implement the Convention and to maintain an open, constructive and engaged dialogue with the organs contained therein. [The Holy See] will take its further positions and will give account of them, and so on, without trying to escape from a genuine dialogue, from the established procedures, with openness to justified criticism – but the Holy See will do so with courage and determination , without timidity.
At the same time, one cannot fail to see that the latest recommendations issued by the Committee appear to present – in the opinion of those who have followed well the process that preceded them – grave limitations.
They have not taken adequate account of the responses , both written and oral, given by the representatives of the Holy See . Those who have read and heard these answers do not find proportionate reflections of them in the document of the Committee, so as to suggest that it was practically already written, or at least already in large part blocked out before the hearing.
In particular, the [Observations’] lack of understanding of the specific nature of the Holy See seem serious. It is true that the Holy See is a reality different from other countries, and that this makes it less easy to understand the Holy See’s role and responsibilities . [These particularities], however, have been explained in detail many times in the Holy See’s twenty years and more of adherence to the Convention, and [specifically addressed] in recent written responses. [Are we dealing with] an inability to understand, or an unwillingness to understand? In either case, one is entitled to amazement.
The way in which the objections [contained in the Concluding Observations] were presented, as well as the insistence on diverse particular cases, seem to suggest that a much greater attention was given to certain NGOs, the prejudices of which against the Catholic Church and the Holy See are well known, rather than to the positions of the Holy See itself, which were also available in a detailed dialogue with the Committee.
A lack of desire to recognize all the Holy See and the Church have done in recent years, [especially as regards] recognizing errors, renewing the regulations, and developing educational and preventive measures, is in fact typical of such organizations. Few, other organizations or institutions, if any, have done as much. This, however, is definitely not what one understands by reading the document in question.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most serious observation: the Committee’s comments in several directions seem to go beyond its powers and to interfere in the very moral and doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church, giving indications involving moral evaluations of contraception, or abortion, or education in families, or the vision of human sexuality, in light of [the Committee’s] own ideological vision of sexuality itself. For this reason, in the official communique released Wednesday morning there was talk of “an attempt to interfere in the teaching of the Catholic Church on the dignity of the human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.”
Finally, one cannot but observe that the tone, development, and the publicity given by the Committee in its document are absolutely anomalous when compared to its normal progress in relations with other States that are party to the Convention.
In sum: if the Holy See was certainly the subject of an initiative and a media attention in our view unfairly harmful, one needs to recognize that, in turn, the Committee has itself attracted much serious and well-founded criticism. Without desiring to place [responsibility for] what has transpired “[on] the United Nations”, it must be said that the UN carries the brunt of the negative consequences in public opinion, for the actions of a Committee that calls itself [by the UN name].
Let us try to find the correct plan of commitment for the good of the children – even through the instrument of the Convention. The Holy See will not allow its careful and reasoned responses to be lacking.
© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2014
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