Wednesday, February 5, 2014

United Nations Releases Scathing Report on Handling of Abuse Crisis by Catholic Authorities

The United Nations Committee on Protection of the Rights of the Child has now released its report (pdf file) following the Vatican's grilling (and here) by that committee in mid-January. The report is scathing. The committee report urges the Vatican to act immediately to remove from ministry all priests known to have abused or suspected of having abused children, and to report them to civil authorities.

In dry, understated statements, the committee notes (e.g., I.2) that the Vatican has stonewalled the U.N. for years now, as that body has sought to call the Vatican (and the Catholic hierarchy as a whole) to accountability for its handling of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church. As the report suggests, at the recent hearing before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Vatican continued its obfuscation, refusing to answer direct questions in any direct manner:

The Committee regrets that most of the recommendations contained in the Committee’s concluding observations of 1995 on the initial report of the Holy See (CRC/C/15/Add.46) have not been fully addressed (IV.9).

The committee flatly rejects (III.8) the argument that Archbishop Silvano Tomasi and Bishop Charles Scicluna sought to float at their recent hearing before the U.N. committee--that is, that the Vatican has no effective authority over bishops in dioceses around the world, or over the superiors of religious communities. The committee also rejects the Vatican argument that it has complied with the concerns of the U.N. about children's rights and safety, when canon law continues to ignore the provisions of the U.N. about these matters, "in particular those relating to children‘s rights to be protected against discrimination, violence and all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse" (IV.13)

As the committee notes, 

The Committee is however concerned that the Holy See has not established a mechanism to monitor respect for and compliance with children’s rights by individuals and institutions of a religious nature under the authority of the Holy See, including all Catholic schools, as well as in the Vatican City State (IV.19).

It is also quite interesting to see that the U.N. committee takes the Vatican to task for its discriminatory approach to those who are gay, because, as the committee states, 

[T]he Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality . . . contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples (IV.25).

And so,

The Committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality (IV.26). 

And the same holds true for gender discrimination: from 1995 forward, the U.N. committee has asked the Vatican to address gender stereotypes and gender equality in Catholic schools, and the Vatican continues to ignore this request (IV.27). As the committee notes, the unwillingness of the Vatican to engage these questions has effects on the lives of children whose chances of fulfilling their talents and abilities are stunted by educations that trade in gender stereotypes (IV.28).

The committee also seriously faults the Vatican for seeking to obstruct attempts of the U.N. to protect women and girls from violence:

The Committee welcomes the indication that the Holy See pays particular attention to promoting the dignity of women and girls. However, given the extent and the devastating impact of domestic violence on children and the fact that domestic violence often has a gender component, the Committee is seriously concerned that during the 2013 Commission on the Status of Women, the Holy See objected to a draft final text proposing that religion, custom or tradition should not serve as an excuse for States to evade their obligations to protect women and girls from violence (IV.45).

And it notes that the Vatican's attempts to deny adolescents access to contraceptives have seriously negative consequences for the health and well-being of many adolescents around the world--in particular, for adolescent girls, who bear the brunt of teen pregnancies (IV.56-57). 

There will be much blather now among many Catholic journalists and in hierarchical circles about the unwarranted intrusion of secular governmental or advisory bodies on the inner governance of the Catholic church. There will be talk about religious freedom and rights of conscience and political agendas hostile to Catholic values.

What that talk cannot permit us to forget: as the U.N. committee repeatedly insists, the lives and well-being of children are at stake in these discussions. There is superabundant evidence that Catholic pastoral leaders for years now have not put the lives and well-being of children first, when the inner governance of the church impinges in direct ways on those lives. 

Those who care about the lives and well-being of children around the world cannot permit the self-serving excuses, the stonewalling, the evasion of direct questions and obfuscation of Catholic religious authority figures to continue while children remain at risk. We have a moral imperative to care for the least among us, and if our religious leaders refuse to adhere to that imperative, then it becomes the strong responsibility of the rest of us to act.

On the U.N. report, see Thomas C. Fox at National Catholic Reporter, Abigail Frymann for The Tablet, Barbara Dorris and Barbara Blaine for SNAP, and David Willey for BBC News.

The photo is by Fabrice Coffrini of Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.

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