The Truth about the Relationship between the Holy See and the International Community

Mgr Tomasi on torture and child abuse prevention in the Vatican.

Mgr. Silvano Maria Tomasi


This week the Holy See participated in the UN Convention against Torture in Geneva. There has been lobbying by various private factions for the UN to come down hard on the Holy See with regards to its methods of dealing with child abuse within Catholic institutions around the world, as well as pushing for the Church to change its stance on abortion and homosexual marriage.

Aleteia has interviewed Mgr. Silvano Maria Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations in Geneva, on the latest news out of this Convention, as well as on the prevention of child abuse and the various measures put forward by the Vatican that many people haven’t heard about. He also addressed the issue of the pressures presented by these lobbies.

The Committee of the Convention against Torture regards the cruelty and suffering committed and ‘allowed’ within a state. Why is the Vatican called into question in the case of sexual abuse by priests, which is tied to the actions of single individuals?

Mgr. Tomasi: Like with various other States Parties in the Convention Against Torture, the Holy See presented its Report, as required by the Convention itself, that it ratified in 2002. In the meeting, the Committee opened the door, so to speak, to a series of questions about sexual abuse committed by people who work for the Church, because Article 16 of the Convention speaks about "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Forms of sexual abuse are not, strictly speaking, acts of torture as defined in Article 1, because this requires that such actions are carried out "by a public official or any other person acting in an official capacity or under their instigation, or with their explicit or implicit consent." Article 16 seems to me, to permit discussing about sexual abuse of minors as degrading actions.

For this reason, questions were raised about the responsibility of the Church concerning pedophile priests and the cases that have occurred in various countries around the world. But what we are dealing with here is inhuman behaviour rather than torture, which would request the participation of state officials, which the priests have not.

In a long editorial, the Wall Street Journal criticised those associations called for the United Nations to speak out against the Vatican and against the line it took for handling the cases of pedophilia within it. In particular, the Center for Reproductive Rights is lobbying for the teachings of the Vatican on the subject of abortion to be considered as "equal to psychological torture." What do you think?

Mgr Tomasi: The fact that there are representatives of civil society who take part in the activities of the United Nations seems to me to be a good thing. Unfortunately, some of these non-governmental organizations are a bit fanatical or adopt a methodology which is rather closed to an objective reading of reality.

In other words, while the functioning of the United Nations takes on a democratic basis through the representation of the Member States, there are NGOs or officials who march along other tracks, pursuing their personal convictions, an agenda that reflects a vision of man founded on extreme and egoistic individualism.

This, however, does not affect in any way the legal position of the Holy See within the United Nations. In fact, I would say that in recent months my little experience here in Geneva has been one of great respect and solidarity on the part of the representatives of the States. In contrast, representatives of some non-governmental organizations sometimes take a fundamentalist attitude in the sense that they close their eyes to the evidence of the facts and to what has been done and is being done both in relation to these problems of sexual abuse and in relation to the culture change that has occurred in treating them.