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UN Panel Slams Vatican on Priest Sex Abuse Scandal

Radio Vatican - published on 05/23/14 - updated on 06/08/17

But Holy See contends individuals priests not legally dependent on Rome.

GENEVA (AP) — A United Nations committee says the Vatican has effective worldwide control over bishops and priests who must comply with a U.N. anti-torture treaty, a finding that could expose the Catholic Church to new lawsuits by victims of clerical sex abuse.

The Holy See contested that finding, saying that an advanced unedited version of the committee’s "Concluding Observations on the Initial Report of the Holy See" give the impression that "all the priests serving around the world are indirectly legally dependent from the Vatican, something that neither recent legislative amendments enacted by the Holy See nor the Interpretative Declaration – accepted at the moment of ratification – imply."

The Vatican also commented that the committee rejected the view that working to safeguard unborn human life can be considered a form of torture.

"The committee rejected…the interpretation that would treat efforts to restrict or ban abortion as a form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the Convention, thus safeguarding the fundamental human right of freedom of religion and opinion and the protection and promotion of human life," it said.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture has repeatedly ruled that rape and sexual violence can be considered torture cases, which in much of the world don’t carry statutes of limitations.

The panel of 10 independent experts said Friday the Holy See must ensure that the treaty isn’t violated by its officials and others "in any situation in which they exercise jurisdiction or effective control." It says Vatican officials have failed to report abuse charges properly, moved priests rather than disciplined them, and failed to pay adequate compensation to victims.

The Holy See issued a communique pointing out that the committee "did not conclude that the Holy See, its officials, and those acting on its behalf, in conjunction with it, or under its direction or control have violated the CAT."

It also noted that the committee recognized the Church’s efforts to institute reforms to prevent sexual abuse and to compensate  victims of sexual abuse.

The Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN Offices and Organisations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, told Vatican Radio that the observations "reflect the Committee’s acknowledgement of the good faith efforts of the Holy See to comply [with] always and to advance the Convention Against Torture.”

Here is the full text of the Communiqué from the Holy See

The Committee for the Convention against Torture (CAT) has released an advanced unedited version of its Concluding Observations on the Initial Report of the Holy See.  These Observations recognize that the Holy See has made many serious reforms in its procedures for dealing with the crime of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Concluding Observations include many positive outcomes that reflect the Committee’s acknowledgement of the good faith efforts of the Holy See to comply with the CAT, to institute reforms to prevent sexual abuse; and to compensate and facilitate the care and healing of the victims of sexual abuse. These positive outcomes include:

  • The Committee appreciated “the open and constructive dialogue with the high-level delegation” of the Holy See (paragraph 3).
  • The Committee did not conclude that the Holy See, its officials, and those acting on its behalf, in conjunction with it, or under its direction or control have violated the CAT.
  • In the process, Committee acknowledged that the Holy See and Catholic dioceses and religious orders have instituted important efforts to prevent sexual abuse against minors and others (paragraph 6, 9, 10, and 14). 
  •  The Committee acknowledged that many Catholic dioceses and religious orders have provided financial settlements to victims of sexual abuse (paragraph 16). Though not mentioned in the concluding observations, an estimated $2.5 billion has been paid to victims since 1950 and $78 million has been paid for the provision of therapy and other support. 

The Committee rejected as well the interpretation that would treat efforts to restrict or ban abortion as a form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the Convention, thus safeguarding the fundamental human right of freedom of religion and opinion and the protection and promotion of human life. 

The Committee did not expressly conclude that, in and of itself, rape or sexual abuse by individual non-state actors constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the CAT. Nevertheless, many of the Observations make reference to sexual abuse, which the Holy See condemns as a serious crime and grave violation of human dignity.  Regrettably, there appears to be an implicit fundamental assumption throughout the Observations that any sexual abuse is equivalent to, or a form of, torture as defined in the CAT.  Such an assumption is neither supported by the text of the CAT nor has it been accepted to date by human rights authorities.  Such an assumption would attempt to treat allegations of sexual abuse as allegations, which then presumably violate the CAT.  For this reason, the underlying assumption is fundamentally flawed, misleading, and ultimately counter-productive.

Bearing in mind that the role of the Committee is simply to monitor and report, and not to adjudicate, much less to create “jurisprudence“, there are some observations that should be noted.

First, while recognizing that the CAT applies to Vatican City State, the Observations give the impression that all the priests serving around the world are indirectly legally dependent from the Vatican, something that neither recent legislative amendments enacted by the Holy See nor the Interpretative Declaration – accepted at the moment of ratification – imply.

Second, there are specific cases and demands for which the Committee would like to receive more detailed information.  The Holy See takes note and will give serious consideration to these recommendations.

In conclusion, the Holy See reiterates its willingness to implement in an effective way the Convention against Torture and in the spirit of this Convention will continue to develop and to enact measures that will prevent any cruel and inhuman behavior and support, as it has already done through enormous financial assistance and human solidarity, all victims.  

Tags:
AbuseUnited NationsVatican

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