Friday, March 7, 2014
By Anthony Faiola And Michelle Boorstein
The Washington Post
BERLIN — A United Nations committee issued a scathing indictment Wednesday of the Vatican’s handling of cases of child sexual abuse involving clerics, releasing a report that included criticism of church teachings on homosexuality, gender equality and abortion.
Kirsten Sandberg, center, chairperson of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, talks to committee members Maria Herczog, right, and Benyam Mezmur during a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday. The committee denounced several Vatican policies.
The Associated Press
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child published a report Wednesday on the Holy See’s compliance with a 1989 U.N. accord on child rights. The report focused heavily on the worldwide allegations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the Vatican’s handling of the cases.
Here are some of the 67 recommendations made by the 18-member panel, which is based in Geneva and made up of independent child rights experts from around the world.
AMEND CHURCH LAW
The Vatican should bring its Canon Law in line with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Holy See ratified in 1990, “in particular those (laws) relating to children’s rights to be protected against discrimination, violence and all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” This includes any obligation for victims of crimes or those aware of them to remain silent.
PUT CHILDREN BEFORE THE CHURCH
The panel said 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.” It said church officials had in many cases blamed the victims or their families, sought to discredit and in some cases humiliated them.
Despite the Vatican’s commitment to “hold inviolable the dignity and entire person of every child,” the panel expressed 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.” It added: “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 the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”
STOP IMPEDING INVESTIGATIONS
The panel urged the Vatican to stop the transfer of abusers and suspected abusers, a practice it said had been documented on numerous occasions and which amounted to covering up the crimes. A Vatican commission created last year should investigate “all cases of child sexual abuse as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them.” In doing so, it should consider bringing in independent human rights groups, publish the outcome of the investigations and allow its archives to be accessed by law enforcement authorities investigating alleged perpetrators and those who may have covered for them.
It called on the Vatican 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.”
The Vatican should provide training on child rights to all priests and members of Catholic orders and institutions working with children.
The report demanded that the Vatican immediately turn over to criminal investigators any known or suspected abusers and end its “code of silence” by enforcing rules ordering dioceses to report abuse to local authorities. It also called on the Vatican to open its archives on sexual allegations against clerics.
The range of the report appeared to infuriate the Vatican, which last month sent two top officials to appear before the U.N. panel in Geneva for the first public accounting of the Holy See’s handling of abuse allegations. Officials said they are still studying the findings, but responded angrily to what they described as recommendations that are ideologically biased. They said the United Nations has no right to weigh in on church teachings.
“Trying to ask the Holy See to change its teachings is not negotiable,” Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio. He suggested that gay-rights groups had influenced the commission.
The Vatican has been riding a wave of positive publicity since Pope Francis was elected in March. But the report – which is not binding, meaning the United Nations has no way to enforce its recommendations – drew attention to the single largest stain on the Catholic Church’s global image: its handling of allegations of sexual abuse by clerics.
The Vatican had been bracing for the report. After widespread revelations of sexual abuse by clerics in Europe in 2010, the U.N. committee, which is headquartered in Geneva, began an inquiry last year. The Vatican declined the panel’s request to review internal files and data on abuse cases.
The report said the church in some places has “systemically” adopted policies that put children at risk. In some cases, confidentiality has been imposed on child victims and their families as a condition of financial compensation. The panel also said Catholic officials obstructed efforts in certain countries to extend the statute of limitations for criminal or civil cases.
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 the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report concluded.
The panel condemned church doctrine that it considers out of step with the principles of human rights and child welfare. In blunt language, the committee took particular aim at church stances on sexual orientation, reproductive health and gender equality. It delved into details, expressing its concerns, for instance, about the stereotyping of gender roles in Catholic school textbooks.
The committee rejected the Vatican’s longstanding argument that it doesn’t control bishops or their abusive priests.
The panel also essentially held the Vatican responsible for every priest, parish and Catholic school in the world, calling on it to pay compensation to all victims of sexual abuse worldwide, and also to those who labored in Ireland’s notorious Magdalene Laundries, the church-run workhouses where young women were subject to slave labor and often had their out-of-wedlock babies taken from them, The Associated Press reported.
While the Vatican itself didn’t raise an objection to that aspect of the report, other church advocates did.
“I think that the U.N. report describes a monolithic church that does not exist in fact,” Nicholas Cafardi, a U.S. canon lawyer and former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ lay review board that monitored clerical abuse, told The Associated Press. “The pope in Rome cannot control and is certainly not responsible for what happens throughout the Catholic world.”
(Continued on page 2)