As discussed in a prior post, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child grilled Vatican representatives about clergy abuse in the Catholic Church during a January 16th hearing in Geneva. Following that hearing, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a hard-hitting report on the Vatican's shortcomings in upholding the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Concluding Observations on the Second Periodic Report of the Holy See has much to say about clergy abuse of children, priests' offspring, and LGBTQ issues.
Concluding Observations on the Second Periodic Report of the Holy See applauds the Vatican for its charitable work with children. However, the report also expressed concern over the lack of a "child-rights based approach" in how resources have been allocated to children.
"The Committee appreciates the numerous activities undertaken at grass-roots level and funded by Catholic churches, foundations and organisations worldwide to support and protect children in the most vulnerable situations and to provide them, among others, with education opportunities, health, social, care and other family support services. The Committee however notes the absence of a comprehensive child-rights based approach to the allocation of resources to children and the lack of a system to track the spending on children by the Holy See, as well as by church related organizations and institutions, in other States parties where the Holy See has influence and impact."Regarding sexual abuse, the report acknowledges the Vatican's steps toward accountability while adding that more needs to be done to monitor religious institutions and individuals under the Catholic Church's authority.
"The Committee notes that a Special Office was established in August 2013 to oversee the implementation of international agreements to which the Vatican City State is a party and that the Commission created in December 2013 will be empowered to receive children’s complaints on sexual abuse. The Committee is however concerned that the Holy See has not established a mechanism to monitor respect for and compliance with children’s rights by individuals and institutions of a religious nature under the authority of the Holy See, including all Catholic schools, as well as in the Vatican City State."The report pulled no punches with regard to the Catholic Church's protection of abuse perpetrators at the expense of child victims.
"The Committee is particularly concerned that in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests, as observed by several national commissions of inquiry."The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child slammed the Catholic Church for not acknowledging the extend of child sexual abuse perpetrated by its clergy, for transferring priests accused of abuse, and for forcing clergy to remain silent on the scourge.
"The Committee nevertheless expresses its deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide. 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 to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to theAnother skeleton in the church's closet -- children secretly fathered by priests -- was brought to light by the report, which urged 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 report expressed concern over confidentiality agreements that the mothers of these children have been compelled to sign in exchange for financial support.
continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators ... Well-known child sexual abusers have been transferred from parish to parish or to other countries in an attempt to cover-up such crimes, a practice documented by numerous national commissions of inquiry ... 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. On the contrary, cases of nuns and priests ostracized, demoted and fired for not having respected the obligation of silence have been reported to the Committee as well as cases of priests who have been congratulated for refusing to denounce child abusers ..."
"The Committee is concerned about the situation of children born of Catholic priests, who, in many cases, are not aware of the identity of their fathers. The Committee is also concerned that the mothers may obtain a plan for regular payment from the Church until the child is financially independent only if they sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose any information."Ireland's infamous Magdalene Laundries, in which girls and women were incarcerated, forced to perform unpaid labor, and even abused, came up in the report. The committee called for justice for victims of the Magdalene Laundries, which had ties to the Catholic Church.
"The Committee is concerned that the Holy See has not taken the necessary measures to protect and ensure justice for girls arbitrarily placed by their families, State institutions and churches in the Magdalene laundries of Ireland run by four congregations of Catholic Sisters until 1996."Finally, the report frowned upon the Holy See's position on LGBTQ rights, criticizing its homophobic statements and calling for greater church activism toward LGBTQ equality.
"While also noting as positive the progressive statement delivered in July 2013 by Pope Francis, the Committee is concerned about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples ... 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 Catholic Church and its defenders were unhappy with the report, accusing the committee of challenging its religious freedom and doctrine. The Holy See responded to the report with a February 5th press statement, in which it stressed its "commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child." However, the statement also criticized the report for allegedly trying to interfere with Catholic doctrine.
"The Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the Concluding Observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom."Vatican Radio reports that Father Hans Zollner of the Institute of Psychology at the Gregorian University in Rome and Centre for the Protection of Minors, stated that the report was “harsh in parts but recognises that the Holy See and the Church as a whole has made steps forward.” Regarding committee observations on LGBTQ issues and contraception, Zollner complained that "it looks as if some people ... just wanted to make their point".
Finally, in a post at USCCBlog, Sister Mary Ann Walsh defended the Catholic Church, insisting that it has "certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem [of child sexual abuse] and it will continue to lead in doing so." However, she was disappointed that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child criticized the Catholic Church for its stance on LGBTQ issues and contraception, framing their criticism as an affront to religious liberty.
"A report from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Unfortunately the report is weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception. This seems to violate the U.N.’s obligation from its earliest days to defend religious freedom. In 1948, the organization adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declared that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." Certainly the U.N. charge to defend religious freedom includes defending the Church’s right to determine its own teachings. Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to church. That’s what happened last September when militants killed 81 people, including children, attending Sunday school at a Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan."Clergy abuse victims' advocates condemned the Vatican's response and applauded the report. Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), blasted the Catholic Church for deflecting attention away from the abuse-related content of the report.
"The vast bulk of the United Nations panel's findings have nothing to do with birth control, homosexuality, abortion or doctrine. But the church hierarchy ignores this because deep down, they know they cannot defend the indefensible – their consistent, deliberate, and selfish decisions that safeguard their own reputations and hurt their own flocks.Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, welcomed the report. "This day has been a long time coming, but the international community is finally holding the Vatican accountable for its role in enabling and perpetuating sexual violence in the Church," she said, adding that the "whole world will be watching" to ensure that the Catholic Church protects children from clergy abuse.
It's disingenuous for Catholic officials to trot out the “religious freedom” canard when confronted with uncontroverted evidence of massive wrongdoing."
The new report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is a powerful call for church accountability. A major human rights body has made a public statement on the world stage, urging the Vatican to work more diligently to tackle its child abuse scandals and anti-gay statements. As much as the Catholic hierarchy and its defenders may try to divert the public conversation surrounding the report toward religious freedom and doctrinal orthodoxy, the report's observations still stand.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests: SNAP rebuts criticism of UN report
New York Times: The U.N. Confronts the Vatican
Religion Dispatches: Vatican, ‘Cool Pope’ Blast UN Link Between Sexual Abuse Scandal and Church Attitudes on Gays, Contraception, Abortion
The Atlantic: Can the UN Change the Church's Views on Abortion and Gay Rights?