Church slow to respond, abuse hearing told

Many questions left unanswered as Holy See appears before UN committee

The Holy See appeared to emerge with a clean bill of health from a hearing of the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child in Geneva yesterday.

The 5½-hour session ended with a deal of mutual back slapping as one UN delegate expressed satisfaction about a “positive dialogue”, while another said that the Vatican’s presentation indicated that “new steps” were being taken, steps which represented a “new era, a new dawn for the Holy See”.

The Holy See was not on trial yesterday. Rather the Vatican, like all other countries which have signed up to the 1989 Convention for the Rights of the Child, had been asked to report on just how it implements that Convention.

Obviously, in the case of the Vatican, this meant turning a potentially uncomfortable spotlight on the Catholic Church’s clerical sex abuse crisis.


High moral character
That the spotlight never actually became uncomfortable was a tribute both to the skill of the Vatican delegation and to the UN Committee's modus operandi.

For example, the 18 independent experts – “persons of high moral character” – who make up the Committee were much too busy asking, not always relevant, questions to ever get answers.

So, a question about compensation for the victims of the Magdalene Laundries scandal never got answered. This was because six or seven questions tended to be asked simultaneously, meaning that some inevitably got "forgotten".

The Holy See put its best foot forward with Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna, a former prosecutor at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, implicitly conceding that the Holy See had been slow to understand the worldwide clerical sex abuse crisis.

In a key moment, Bishop Scicluna said that the Holy See now “gets it” in relation to the sex abuse crisis.

Questions were asked about church cover-ups, church silences, Bishop accountability, victim compensation and the extent of the Holy See's data on clerical sex abuse.

Both Bishop Scicluna and the Vatican delegation leader, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, held up their hands, saying that the "egregious" crime of child abuse by priests was a "wound" for everyone in Church life.

Bishop Scicluna quoted Pope John Paul II’s comment in 2002: “There is no place in the priesthood and in religious life for anyone who would harm a child . . .”

Asked specifically what measures the Holy See now routinely takes in relation to a priest who has been convicted of paedophile crime, Archbishop Tomasi said: “Most of those who have been convicted have now been dismissed from the priesthood . . .”

However, both Bishops, were careful to underline the limitations of the Catholic Church’s legal responsibility.