Violence against children and child exploitation are “crimes” and Pope Francis is working to protect children from the “scourge” of sex abuse, leading Vatican figures told a U.N. committee on Jan. 16.
“There is no excuse for any form of violence or exploitation of children,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said to a Jan. 16 hearing of the U.N. committee that oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Ahead of the hearing, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See's press office, issued a note about the Holy See's adherence to the U.N. convention and Vatican efforts to combat sex abuse.
“The Holy See is deeply saddened by the scourge of sexual abuse of minors, which harms millions of children throughout the world,” his note said. He added that the Vatican “laments that, sadly, certain members of the clergy have been involved in such abuse.”
The note acknowledged that sex abuse and the suffering of abuse victims has posed a direct challenge to the Church’s credibility regarding the welfare of children.
Fr. Lombardi said this challenge has led to the Church's development of “a series of initiatives and directives” that are also “extremely helpful” to other communities.
Archbishop Tomasi noted Pope Francis' establishment of a commission for the protection of minors in order to defend the best interest of children and to prevent “any abuse or any harm that may come to them.”
He told Vatican Radio that future efforts must “strengthen the good steps and the good measures that have already been taken.” He said attention given to the Holy See is “understandable,” noting that there are criticisms and claims that the Holy See has covered up some crimes against children.
However, the archbishop said that some accusations against the Vatican are based in “a lack of knowledge” of the measures taken by the Holy See and by local churches. He said the Holy See’s attitude and directives make transparency and child protection “a priority.”
Archbishop Tomasi said the Holy See recognizes that a crime involving children “needs to be addressed more forcefully.” He said obstruction of justice should be prosecuted “in every case.” The Holy See’s policy is “to encourage the prosecution of any crime, including crimes, and especially crimes, against children.”
The committee hearing coincides with the Holy See's criminal investigation of Polish Archbishop Joseph Wesolowski for alleged sex abuse. The archbishop, who served as papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, is currently under investigation by authorities of the Holy See for alleged sexual misconduct involving minors in that country. He could be convicted under the Holy See’s civil law and jailed in Vatican City.
Archbishop Tomasi said that the U.N. committee hearing is “a constructive moment” and “an important occasion” to reaffirm the convention, which the Holy See ratified in 1990. The Holy See is willing “to promote and to sustain the good principles and the good values” in the convention.
He said the committee hearing is a great opportunity to accept “any good advice” about child protection. He said the Holy See will fulfill its international obligations and accept any suggestions about its commitment to children’s rights.
Fr. Lombardi said that Catholic teaching emphasizes respect for the dignity of the human person. The Holy See’s adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child is “in keeping with the teaching and constant stance of the Church.”
He said the Holy See is “an active promoter of an immense current of caring service for the good of children throughout the world.”
Pope Francis’ “inspiring guidance and leadership” gives “a new and evident energy to this commitment,” the Vatican spokesman said.
Fr. Lombardi also criticized the assumption that bishops or religious superiors act “as representatives or delegates of the Pope.” He said this belief is “utterly without foundation.” Rather, civil authorities in countries that have signed the U.N. convention are directly responsible for its implementation and for the enforcement of laws that protect children.