a United Nations hearing the Vatican tries to turn the moral question
of whether child abuse is torture into a legal debate about
may come as a huge surprise to many Catholics, but the Holy See is
claiming it doesn’t really bear legal responsibility for how they or
even their priests behave. Too good to be true? Actually, too horrible
to be believed. What the Vatican is claiming this week before a United
Nations panel is that, really, the question of priests sexually abusing
little kids is a matter for local law enforcement. And, no, the physical
pain and mental anguish inflicted on children by pedophile prelates
should not be called “torture,” at least as defined by the U.N.
the Vatican’s U.N. ambassador appeared in front of the U.N.’s
Convention Against Torture in Geneva on Monday, the issues were about
jurisdiction, not spiritual guidance and the Roman Catholic Church’s
moral responsibility for errant clerics. “It should be stressed,
particularly in light of much confusion, that the Holy See has no
jurisdiction over every member of the Catholic Church,” said Archbishop
Silvano Tomasi, who represented the Vatican as a signatory of the
convention on torture.
In his opening remarks,
released in advance to the press, Tomasi went on to say, “The Holy See
wishes to reiterate that the persons who live in a particular country
are under the jurisdiction of the legitimate authorities of that country
and are thus subject to the domestic law and the consequences contained
therein. State authorities are obligated to protect, and when
necessary, prosecute persons under their jurisdiction.”
problem” and “they don’t work for us” may have become the boilerplate
answers on the issue of who is ultimately responsible for priestly child
abuse. But, curiously, when it comes to nearly every other subject,
from doctrinal issues like preaching against birth control and for
sexual abstinence, to how those spreading the Catholic message behave,
including nuns “pushing feminist themes,” the Catholic Church at least seems to want total jurisdiction over its flocks and its shepherds.
As for those state authorities the Vatican says are “obligated to
protect,” the Vatican hierarchy has, for years, done everything it can
to prohibit them from doing just that by refusing to turn over documents
on pedophile priests, or, in some cases, threatening the victims who
dare to speak.
In an open letter ahead of Monday’s meeting in
Geneva, Barbara Blaine, head of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By
Priests, known as SNAP, asked the U.N. committee members to remember that the Vatican is still covering up sex abuse.
Rome, the pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, shrugged off the
meeting entirely, telling reporters that the topic of child abuse has no
place in a discussion of torture.
we humbly ask that you keep in mind that we are convinced that hundreds
of innocent children and vulnerable adults are being sexually violated,
tortured and assaulted—right now, today—by Catholic clerics,” Blaine
wrote. “Second, we ask that you keep in mind that torture and violence
can be subtle and manipulative. Or it can be blatant and brutal. Either
way, it’s horribly destructive to the human spirit, especially when
inflicted on the young by the powerful, on the truly devout by the
The Vatican’s required appearance in front of the Convention on
Torture is the second time this year it has been called on the carpet
for how Rome guides the Church’s many dioceses across the world. In
January, Vatican officials also sat in front of the United Nations’ Convention for the Rights of the Child to defend their inexcusable record on child abuse. Then, the U.N. group scolded the Vatican:
“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not
acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the
necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and protect
children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the
continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” that
U.N. panel concluded.
Back then, as on Monday, Tomasi toed the
party line, pleading that the Church in Rome could not possibly take
responsibility for what its priests do in the field. “Priests are not
functionaries of the Vatican,” Tomasi told the committee in January.
“Priests are citizens of their own states, and they fall under the
jurisdiction of their own country.”
This time, the Vatican envoy went one step further, arguing that
since the Convention on Torture document only applies in a juridical
sense to the confines of the tiny Vatican city-state, the members of the
convention might consider what a great job the Vatican actually does
getting the anti-torture message out around the world.
“It might be said that the measures employed by the Holy See to take
effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to
prevent and to prohibit torture and to address its root causes to avoid
future acts in this area are abundant,” Tomasi said. “This manifests the
Holy See’s desire to lend its moral support and collaboration to the
international community, so as to contribute to the elimination of
recourse to torture, which is inadmissible and inhuman.”
the pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, shrugged off the meeting
entirely, telling reporters that the topic of child abuse has no place
in a discussion of torture.
“A contributory factor is often the pressure exercised over the
[U.N.] committees and public opinion by [nongovernmental organizations]
with a strong ideological character and orientation, to bring the issue
of the sexual abuse of minors into the discussion on torture, a matter
which relates instead to the Convention on the rights of the child,”
Father Lombardi said. “The extent to which this is instrumental and
forced is clear to any unbiased observer.”
Monday’s meeting follows the first official meeting of Pope Francis’s special commission on child abuse,
whose members gathered over the weekend in Rome. They set out their
initial plan for drawing up statutes and arranged to meet again soon to
help define just what they will do.
“In time, we will propose initiatives to encourage local
responsibility around the world and the mutual sharing of ‘best
practices’ for the protection of all minors, including programs for
training, education, formation, and responses to abuse,” they said in a
statement after the inaugural meeting.
On Tuesday, Tomasi faces
further questioning on the Vatican’s stance on abuse. If the committee
does rule that pedophiliac child abuse is torture, and that the Vatican
is responsible, one might expect a rush of lawsuits citing the United
Nations’ ruling, or even sanctions or expulsion from the committee.
the victims of priestly abuse, even that won’t be enough. “For most of
us, enduring the torture, rape and sexual violence was almost
unbearable,” Blaine said ahead of Monday’s meeting. “But the betrayal by
Church officials was just as damaging and, for many, even worse than
that of the sexual violence. Those in positions of trust—who we were
taught were closest to God and revered above anyone else, including
respected teachers, community leaders, politicians, physicians and even
our parents—treat us as enemies when we muster enough courage to report
the rape and sexual violence we have endured.
“Rather than being embraced, appreciated and acknowledged, we are
ostracized, ignored and blamed,” said Blaine. “This adds additional
torture to far too many.”