Catholic World News

UN report rips Vatican on abuse; Holy See protests 'ideological' attack

February 05, 2014

A UN committee has issued a blistering indictment of the Vatican’s handling of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, claiming that the Vatican has “systematically” encouraged protection of guilty priests, and demanding that the Church immediately dismiss all suspected abusers for prosecution.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child charged that the Vatican had not cooperated fully with investigators. The Holy See, the report claimed, “has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the 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.”

While Vatican officials had anticipated a critical report, they seemed taken aback by the vehemence of the committee’s denunciation, especially because the UN committee went beyond the topic of sexual abuse to denounce Catholic teachings on subjects including abortion, homosexuality, and “gender stereotyping.”

In an immediate response to the UN criticism, the Vatican said that proposals for reform in the handling of sex-abuse cases would be “submitted to a thorough study and examination.” However, the Vatican decried the UN committee’s “attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of the human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.”

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who had appeared before the UN committee to detail the Vatican’s response to sexual abuse, said that the report seemed to follow an “ideological line,” without taking into account the facts that the Holy See had presented to the committed. “It seems that [the report] had already been prepared before the meeting of the committee with the delegation of the Holy See,” he remarked.

Archbishop Tomasi, the Vatican’s observer at UN headquarters in Geneva, took issue with the report’s comments on Church teachings. He pointed out that the UN committee was charged with monitoring the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The criticism of the Catholic opposition to abortion, he observed, “is a contradiction of the principle of life that the convention should support, recommending that children be protected before and after birth.”

The archbishop also said that the UN committee had not recognized the limited authority of the Vatican over the world’s priests. The Holy See has repeatedly told UN officials that individual bishops are responsible for discipline of their priests, and individual countries are responsible for violations of their own laws. The UN report passed over that distinction, holding the Vatican responsible for the misdeeds of priests worldwide.

The UN report also gave short shrift to reforms implemented by the Vatican, as well as by national bishops’ conferences, to remove abusive priests. The report complained that the Vatican is still maintaining a policy of secrecy, since the Holy See will not make public the records of canonical inquiries into abuse cases. “We think it is a horrible thing that is being kept silent both by the Holy See itself and in the different local parishes,” said Kirsten Sandberg, who chaired the committee that produced the critical report.

The UN report did allow that there was evidence of more “progressive” policies under Pope Francis. But that comment could be attributed to an ideological perspective, since the UN applauded the Pope for his statements against mistreatment of homosexuals.

Writing in the Boston Globe, Vatican journalist John Allen (formerly of the National Catholic Reporter) speculated that while most Vatican officials are committed to a more open response to sexual abuse, the UN report could have a negative effect “by blurring the cause of child protection with the culture wars over sexual mores.” He pointed out that some of the reforms suggested by the UN committee—such as disciplinary action against bishops who protected predatory priests-- were already being proposed by influential Catholic leaders. But the report’s forays into issues such as abortion and homosexuality would tempt many Church officials to dismiss the UN proposals.

However Vatican officials promised that the proposals for reform contained in the UN report would be given serious consideration. “There will be an articular response,” said Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State. Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that the Holy See recognized the need for “greater transparency” in handling sex-abuse cases. The Vatican spokesman said that a detailed response to the UN report would be issued “in the coming days or weeks.”


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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: scotty - Feb. 08, 2014 2:25 AM ET USA

    Put formally to this committee - and do not let them off the hook until they respond in detail, "shouldn't children be protected both before and after birth? Shouldn't all human beings be held to the same standard?"

  • Posted by: Thomas429 - Feb. 06, 2014 11:26 PM ET USA

    The Church has no need of apology to any organ of the U.N. That cabal of vipers should have never been formed. The idea may have been honorable, optimistic, and many other good things. But, the result is worse than any single pedophile.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Feb. 06, 2014 7:58 AM ET USA

    Archbishop Tomasi, Archbishop Parolin and Father Lombardi need to realize that they are dealing with people who hate the Church. Cooperating with them is going to get the Church nowhere. Explaining our positions in more detail is not likely to change their minds.

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Feb. 05, 2014 8:40 PM ET USA

    Perhaps it's time to stop denouncing an abstract "culture of death" and start calling out names. The UN and some of its commissions are are foremost in the propagation of new methods to pervert children and pressuring countries to favor abortions. It the Church took upon herself to denounce the wrongdoings of the United Nations, it would suffer no great loss. Would it lose the opportunity of "dialogue"? Look and see the so-called dialogue.

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 05, 2014 7:22 PM ET USA

    Lumping abuse of boys over many decades by some members of the clergy with the Church's unchangeable teachings on abortion and homosexuality, while using very broad terms of accusation, does not make the "report" deserving of any serious response. But, on the other hand, whatever response comes from the Holy See, it will be widely publicized giving an instant occasion to pronounce to the world clear Catholic teaching on the matters of Christian morality. This provides opportunity to evangelize.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Feb. 05, 2014 7:15 PM ET USA

    If individual Bishops are responsible for correcting their priests and they do not do it then the Vatican has the authority to administer correction to the Bishop. If more Bishops were sacked for not taking care of errant priests then the problem would be quickly controlled. I fear that an attitude of fraternal neglect is a main problem for the Vatican.

  • Posted by: shrink - Feb. 05, 2014 5:44 PM ET USA

    This is definitely a tricky situation, and we want to be helpful and creative in our suggestion. The Vatican would be well-served to hire retired Bishop Hubbard of Albany NY. He is quite experienced in these matters, and he is one of the beautiful people. He is trusted by the Vatican who saw fit to keep him in Albany all these years through, and he and the UN will certainly understand each other with their mutual commitment to diversity. He is the perfect man to invoke the Woody Allen defense.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 05, 2014 5:35 PM ET USA

    "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." The Roman Catholic Church is not among the more equal religions in an Orwellian world. Appeals to religious freedom by an institution that is THE teaching authority in matters of faith and morals is simply not in the Church's best interest. Observers were surprised to see Church representatives allowing themselves to appear to be subject to an obscure UN committee. The whole sordid thing is a disaster.

  • Posted by: Defender - Feb. 05, 2014 5:20 PM ET USA

    I guess the Vatican didn't get the memo that the United Nations is now the Supreme Court, Supreme Presidency and Supreme Legislature.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Feb. 05, 2014 5:18 PM ET USA

    The only thing surprising here is that Vatican officials were surprised. Whom exactly do they think they are dealing with at the UN? The UN crowd isn't even subtle. They tip their hand a bit overmuch here by going after what REALLY bothers them, viz. Catholic teachings concerning sins they themselves commit daily. The pretense of defending children is a smokescreen to cover their real agenda, destruction of the Catholic Church. These are the spiritual heirs of the revolutionists of 1789.