Catholic World News

What the United Nations demands of the Holy See: background and analysis

February 06, 2014

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has released the full text of its report that criticized the Vatican’s response to the clerical abuse scandal.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is responsible for examining compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a 1989 treaty signed by 193 states. (The United States is not bound by the treaty: although President Bill Clinton signed it in 1995, the Senate has not ratified it.) The Holy See signed the treaty in 1990, putting forward three reservations as it did so:

[The Holy See] interprets the phrase `Family planning education and services' in article 24.2, to mean only those methods of family planning which it considers morally acceptable, that is, the natural methods of family planning.

[The Holy See] interprets the articles of the Convention in a way which safeguards the primary and inalienable rights of parents, in particular insofar as these rights concern education (articles 13 and 28), religion (article 14), association with others (article 15) and privacy (article 16).

[The Holy See declares] that the application of the Convention be compatible in practice with the particular nature of the Vatican City State and of the sources of its objective law (art. 1, Law of 7 June 1929, n. 11) and, in consideration of its limited extent, with its legislation in the matters of citizenship, access and residence."

The treaty requires signatories to submit a report on their compliance within two years of ratification, and thereafter every five years. The Holy See submitted its first report nearly two decades ago but did not submit its second report until recently. At the beginning of its own 2014 report, the committee stated that it “regrets that the second periodic report was submitted with a considerable delay, which prevented the Committee from reviewing the implementation of the Convention by the Holy See for 14 years.”

In its 14-paragraph 1995 report on the Holy See’s compliance, the committee noted three areas of concern and offered five suggestions and recommendations. The committee asked the Holy See to withdraw its three reservations, expressed concern about gender discrimination in “Catholic schools and institutions,” and expressed concern about “the insufficient attention paid to the promotion of education of children on health matters, the development of preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services.”

In 2014, however, the committee devoted 58 of its 67 paragraphs to areas of concern and recommendations.

The committee began by stating “that by ratifying the Convention, [the Holy See] has committed itself to implementing the Convention not only on the territory of the Vatican City State but also as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority.”

Among the areas of concern the committee found in 2014:

Failure to address the 1995 report’s recommendations: The committee asked the Holy See to withdraw its reservations in order “to ensure the Convention’s precedence over internal laws and regulations,” though the committee welcomed a statement by Holy See representatives that the withdrawal of the reservations is under consideration. The committee urged the Holy See extend its compliance beyond Vatican City to include canon law, calling for “a comprehensive review of its normative framework, in particular Canon Law, with a view to ensuring its full compliance with the Convention.”

Implementation of the treaty:The committee recommended the establishment of a high-level commission to “coordinate the implementation of children's rights across all pontifical councils, episcopal conferences of bishops as well as individuals and institutions of a religious nature that function under the authority of the Holy See,” to examine whether it budgets sufficient funds for “the promotion and protection of children’s rights within Catholic related organizations and institutions,” and to make the treaty’s provisions part of training of priests and religious and part of the curriculum in all Catholic schools.

The committee also called for “an independent mechanism for monitoring children’s rights, with clear mandates to receive and investigate children’s complaints in a child-sensitive manner and with due respect to the privacy and protection of victims, and ensure that this mechanism is made accessible to all children attending or involved in schools, services and institutions provided by the Catholic Church. Given the special nature of the Holy See, guidelines on the relationship and collaboration between this mechanism and national law enforcement authorities should also be established and widely disseminated.”

Illegitimate children, homosexuality, and gender: The committee urged the Holy See to “promptly abolish the discriminatory classification of children born out of wedlock as illegitimate children. The Committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.”

The committee added that the Holy See should “adopt a rights-based approach to address discrimination between girls and boys and refrain from using terminology that could challenge equality between girls and boys. The Committee also urges the Holy See to take active measures to remove from Catholic schools textbooks all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities.”

Children’s best interests: “The Holy See is encouraged to provide guidance to all relevant persons in authority for making the best interests of the child a primary consideration in every area, including when dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, and to disseminate them to all Catholic churches, organisations and institutions worldwide.”

“Respect for the views of the child”: The committee scolded the Holy See in this area, stating that “the right of children to freely express their views constitutes one of the most essential components of children’s dignity and that ensuring this right is a legal obligation under the Convention, which leaves no leeway for the discretion of the States parties.” The committee urged the Holy See to “promote the recognition of children as rights holders,” “take measures to ensure the effective implementation of legislation recognizing the right of the child to be heard in relevant legal proceedings,” “encourage, through legislation and policy, opportunities for parents and guardians to listen to children and give due weight to their views in matters that concern them,” and “promote the active role of children in all services provided to families and children by Catholic church run organisations and institutions, as well as in the planning of curricula and school programmes, and ensure that in disciplinary matters, the right of the child to be heard is fully respected.”

Children of priests: Stating that children have a right to know and be cared for by their parents, the committee asked the Holy See to “assess the number of children born of Catholic priests, find out who they are and take all the necessary measures to ensure the rights of these children to know and to be cared for by their fathers, as appropriate. The Committee also recommends that the Holy See ensure that churches no longer impose confidentiality agreements when providing mothers with financial plans to support their children.”

“Baby boxes”: The committee asked the Holy See to prohibit the practice whereby mothers who cannot care for their children anonymously entrust them to the care of religious orders. The committee called upon the Holy See to address “the abandonment of babies by providing family planning, reproductive health, as well as adequate counselling and social support, to prevent unplanned pregnancies as well as assistance to families in need, while introducing the possibility of confidential births at hospitals as a measure of last resort to prevent abandonment and/or death of a child.”

“Torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment”: Lamenting the treatment of girls in the Irish “Magdalene laundries,” run by nuns, the committee called upon the Holy See to investigate and punish the nuns who were responsible, to compensate the victims, and to “take all necessary measures to ensure that no women and children can be arbitrarily confined for whatever reason in Catholic institutions in the future.”

Corporal punishment: “The Committee is concerned that while corporal punishment, including ritual beatings of children, has been and remains widespread in some Catholic institutions and reached endemic levels in certain countries as revealed notably by the Ryan Commission in Ireland, the Holy See still does not consider corporal punishment as being prohibited by the Convention and has therefore not enacted guidelines and rules clearly banning corporal punishment of children in Catholic schools, in all Catholic institutions working with and for children, as well as in the home.”

“The Committee reminds the Holy See that all forms of violence against children, however light, are unacceptable and that the Convention leaves no room for any level of violence against children,” the committee added as it urged the Holy See to “explicitly oppose all corporal punishment in childrearing,” “amend both Canon Law and Vatican City State laws to explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment of children, including within the family,” and “promote positive, non-violent and participatory forms of child-rearing, and ensure that an interpretation of Scripture as not condoning corporal punishment is reflected in Church teaching and other activities and incorporated into all theological education and training.”

Child abuse allegations and parental rights: The committee said that it “is concerned about the Holy See’s position that civil authorities should intervene in the family setting only in cases where a proven abuse has been committed in order not to interfere with the duties and rights of the parents. Such a position seriously undermines efforts and measures to prevent abuse and neglect of children.” The committee urged the Holy See to “formulate a comprehensive strategy for preventing and combating child abuse and neglect and further strengthen awareness-raising and education programmes including campaigns with the involvement of children” and to “develop safe, well-publicized, confidential and accessible support mechanisms for children, their representatives and others to report violence against children.”

Clerical sexual abuse: The committee made the remarkable statement – perhaps a reference to the Sacrament of Penance – that “due to a code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication, cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where such crimes occurred.”

The committee urged the Holy See to “ensure that the Commission created in December 2013 will investigate independently all cases of child sexual abuse as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them. The Holy See should consider inviting civil society and victims organizations to join this Commission and international human rights mechanisms to support its work. The outcome of this investigation should be made public and serve to prevent the recurrence of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.”

The committee also called upon the Holy See to “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,” to “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,” and to “develop educational preventive programmes to increase children’s awareness of sexual abuse and to teach them the necessary skills with which to protect themselves.”

The committee called upon the Holy See to amend canon law “in order for child sexual abuse to be considered as crimes and not as ‘delicts.’” In an apparent reference to the seal of confession, the committee urged the Holy See “repeal all provisions which may impose an obligation of silence … on all those that become aware of such crimes.”

Violence and gender: Urging the Holy See to “prioritize the elimination of all forms of violence against children,” the committee asked the Holy See to “use its authority and influence to support efforts and measures aimed at combatting all forms of domestic and gender-based violence including measures that address attitudes, traditions, customs and behavioural practices which often serve as a justification for these forms of violence.”

Children and Catholic institutions: Citing the “the situation of adolescents recruited by the Legion of Christ and other Catholic institutions who are progressively separated from their families and isolated from the outside world,” the committee “urges the Holy See to adopt a policy for the deinstitutionalization of children placed in Catholic Church-run institutions and for the reunification with their families, where possible. The Committee also recommends that the Holy See take all necessary measures to ensure as a matter of priority that children under the age of three are not placed in institutions.”

Abortion: Citing the case of the nine-year-old Brazilian girl who was raped and became pregnant, the committee urged the Holy See “to review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls and to amend Canon 1398 [on automatic excommunication for procuring an abortion] relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.”

Sex education: The committee also called upon the Holy See to “assess the serious implications of its position on adolescents’ enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and overcome all the barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information, including on family planning and contraceptives, the dangers of early pregnancy, the prevention of HIV/AIDS and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.” At the same time, the committee urged the Holy See to “take measures to raise awareness of and foster responsible parenthood and sexual behaviour, with particular attention to boys and men.”

“The Holy See should ensure that sexual and reproductive health education and prevention of HIV/AIDS is part of the mandatory curriculum of Catholic schools and targeted at adolescent girls and boys,” the committee continued,” as well as “actively contribute to the dissemination of information on the harm that early marriage and early pregnancy can cause and ensure that Catholic organizations protect the rights of pregnant children, adolescent mothers and their children and combat discrimination against them.”

Children raised by religious communities: Again citing the case of the “Magdalene laundries,” the committee urged the Holy See “to open an internal investigation into all cases of removal of babies from their mothers and fully cooperate with relevant national law enforcement authorities in holding those responsible accountable. The Committee also urges the Holy See to ensure that the Catholic religious congregations involved fully disclose all the information they have on the whereabouts of these children in order for them, where possible, to be reunited with their biological mothers.”

Sexual abuse victims: The committee asked the Holy See to “develop comprehensive procedures for the early identification of child victims of sexual and other forms of abuse,” “ensure accessible, confidential, child-friendly and effective reporting channels for children who are victims or witnesses of sexual abuse,” compensate victims, and “promote the reform of statute of limitations in countries where they impede victims of child sexual abuse from seeking justice and redress.”

Conclusion: The committee called upon the Holy See to sign eight other UN treaties and to seek “expert advice” from three leading UN officials who are responsible for combating child sexual exploitation, violence against children, and torture and other cruel punishment.

In its conclusion, the UN committee asked the Holy See to submit, in combined form, its required third, fourth, fifth, and sixth reports on the treaty’s implementation by September 2017 and not to exceed 60 pages.


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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: nix898049 - Feb. 07, 2014 4:36 PM ET USA

    Our Blessed Lord could not have been more far-sighted when he told his followers that if THE WORLD hates them, it hated HIM first. We mustn't forget who the real ENEMY is, and we can take comfort in Matt 5:11-12.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Feb. 06, 2014 11:15 AM ET USA

    This whole thing is utter nonsense and can only be interpreted generically as an indicator of the extreme instability of the world society. The primary goal of the UN was the promotion of world peace at a practical level, and not the manipulation of any nation, let alone the Holy Roman Catholic Church, into any agenda.

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 06, 2014 8:33 AM ET USA

    Since signing the treaty in 1990 things have changed completely with the recent invention of gay "marriage" and adoptions of children by gay couples.

  • Posted by: Saint Jimbob of the Apokalypse - Feb. 06, 2014 7:47 AM ET USA

    The first half of the first sentence in the last paragraph says it all: "In its conclusion, the UN committee asked the Holy See to submit.." Period. Submit. To us.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Feb. 06, 2014 7:47 AM ET USA

    The full report speaks for itself. What we are faced with here is nothing less than the anti-Catholic declaration of a committee controlled by partisans of Progressivism, the facile and popular religion of the masses these days. It's lying poppycock, naturally, but it may serve to awaken our new pope to an ugly reality: one simply cannot work easily with these people because they do not proceed in good faith ever. They have an agenda and they will bend truth to advance it. They have no shame.