Holy See to testify to UN Committee Against Torture
Vatican braces itself for further criticism of Catholic Church’s handling of clerical sex abuse
Clerical sex abuse activist Marie Collins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi at the Vatican on Saturday following the commission’s first meeting. Photograph: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi
For the second time in the past five months, the Holy See will this morning find itself “in the dock” at the United Nations in Geneva when it is due to testify before the Committee Against Torture. Last February the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a damning condemnation of the Catholic Church’s handling of its clerical sex abuse crisis, accusing it of being more concerned with protecting its reputation and its abuser priests rather than with protecting children.
With sex abuse victims groups such as US lobby Snap having submitted reports to the Committee Against Torture, the Holy See is bracing itself for more criticism.
While Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi argued last Friday that the convention against torture applied essentially to “criminal legislation, criminal procedure, the prison system and international relations in the legal domain”, Snap said: “Throughout the world, children and vulnerable adults have been and continue to be subjected to widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence by priests and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican’s policies and practices enable this violence.
“The Committee Against Torture has been clear that rape and sexual violence constitute forms of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
The Holy See is preparing to fight back. Fr Lombardi argued last Friday that UN committees can sometimes “pose questions deriving from issues not strictly linked to the text of their convention”. In particular, he rejected the attempt “to bring the issue of the sexual abuse of minors into the discussion on torture” rather than that of child protection. This was “often” the result of the pressure exercised “by NGOs with a strong ideological character and orientation”, he said.
In an interview last weekend, the Holy See’s permanent representative in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, was equally defensive, arguing that some critics seem “deaf and blind” to any progress made by the church. Archbishop Tomasi also complained about “bureaucrats wedded to a particular ideological cause” and consequently keen to attack the Vatican.
Today’s potentially embarrassing session comes after a weekend that marked the conclusion of the first session of the Holy See’s new child protection body, the Pontifical Commission for Minors. At a Vatican news conference on Saturday, Irish sex abuse activist Marie Collins, one of four women and five lay people on the eight-person commission, said that she had a “positive” feeling about the new body.
“We are coming from very different perspectives but we all have one aim in mind, the protection of children and . . . I am happy at the moment that the meeting is addressing the issues I hoped it would address,” she said.
Earlier, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the de facto commission head, had said there had to be “accountability for everyone in the church regardless of their status, both with regard to those who perpetrate [sex crimes] and those who cover up”. He added that accountability could not be only “legal”, it also had to be “moral”.