Three errors of fact in Vatican submission to UN Committee on Rights of the Child

Denied using term ‘illegitimate’ when referring to children or promoting corporal punishment


A Vatican submission last December to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) made three significant statements of fact that are inaccurate.

One such statement, as reported in this newspaper last week, was its claim the four religious congregations which ran Magdalene laundries in Ireland were willing to pay part of a compensation scheme developed by the State for women who had been in the laundries.


Compensation scheme
This was untrue, but prompted Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to write to Rome seeking clarification. Since then, two of the congregations, the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of Charity, have repeated their refusal to contribute. All four, including the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, said last summer they would not be doing so.

However, it has emerged it was inaccurate of the Vatican to say it didn't use the term "illegitimate" when referring to children and didn't promote the corporal punishment of children. The 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Catholic Church states (Canon 1137) "children conceived or born of a valid or putative marriage are legitimate". Canon 1138.2 states "children born at least 180 days after the day when the marriage was celebrated or within 300 days from the day of the dissolution of conjugal life are presumed to be legitimate".

Canon 1139 explicitly states: “Illegitimate children are legitimated by the subsequent valid or putative marriage of their parents or by a rescript of the Holy See.” Canon 1140 adds:“As regards canonical effects legitimated children are equal in all things to legitimate ones unless the law expressly has provided otherwise.”

Asked by the UNCRC on its use of "illegitimate", the Vatican says it "stresses that it does not use it [ie the term illegitimate] on the international level". It also told the UNCRC that in "the 1987 Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2221-2223) [. . .] the terms 'corporal punishment' or 'punishment' are not used".


'Spare the rod'
Such terms may not be used but paragraph 2223 in the 1987 Cathechism states "He who loves his son will not spare the rod . . ." A footnote refers to "Sir. 30:1-2." This is the Book of Sirach: "Whoever loves his son will beat him frequently so that in after years the son may be his comfort."

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

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