Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Vatican Fails to Wow U.N. Committee on Torture

As Nick Cumming-Bruce reports for the New York Times, Vatican representative to the United Nations Archbishop Silvano Tomasi was grilled yesterday by the U.N. Committee on Torture. The committee is asking searching questions about whether the Vatican's less than optimal response to the crisis caused by revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic authority figures represents a violation of the Vatican treaty with the U.N. regarding torture.

Tomasi's hair-splitting strategy: he claimed that the Vatican's responsibility vis-a-vis the treaty ends at the boundary lines of the tiny Vatican City state. As Cumming-Bruce notes, last week, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi laid a foundation for the hair-splitting by arguing that ideological pressure groups are seeking to link the Vatican's (non-)response to the abuse situation with violation of the treaty on torture.

Jerry Slevin responds to Lombardi at his Christian Catholicism blog:

Most international lawyers and tens of thousands of children sexually abused, often brutally by priests, likely see this differently than childless and celibate Jesuits like Fr. Lombardi and Pope Francis. Trained on the texts of the medieval scholastics, these Jesuits are taking "hairsplitting and legalisms" to new heights. It is almost obscene to try to make this distinction. As Fr. Lombardi noted, the treaty covers "… torture AND OTHER cruel … treatment…"
If child rape, facilitated since 1910  by making Catholic children begin at seven years old making confession in a dark box to an unknown priest, is not "cruel treatment", what is? What is wrong with you, Fr. Lombardi and Pope Francis? We are talking about defenseless kids. Did you exchange your humanity when you took your Jesuit vows?

As John Hooper reports for The Guardian, the Vatican attempt at hair-splitting failed to convince members of the U.N. Committee, as they brushed aside the claim that the Vatican's responsibility to enforce the treaty on torture ends at the boundaries of the Vatican City state. And here's Barbie Latza Nadeau at the Daily Beast, who also does not seem to buy the Vatican spin-claims: 

This may come as a huge surprise to many Catholics, but the Holy See is claiming it doesn’t really bear legal responsibility for how they or even their priests behave. Too good to be true? Actually, too horrible to be believed. What the Vatican is claiming this week before a United Nations panel is that, really, the question of priests sexually abusing little kids is a matter for local law enforcement. And, no, the physical pain and mental anguish inflicted on children by pedophile prelates should not be called "torture," at least as defined by the U.N.

On behalf of the survivor advocacy group SNAP, Barbara Dorris also notes that Archbishop Tomasi used the committee hearings to try to float the suggestion that the abuse crisis is over and done with, and the Vatican's responsibility for it now is "clean-up" and not active vigilance regarding ongoing abuse of children by Catholic authority figures. Barbara points to the case of Father Jiang in St. Louis about which I blogged a week ago, noting,

Consider the case of Fr. Joseph Jiang of St. Louis, Missouri. In 2012, he was arrested for molesting a girl. He escaped prosecution because of a legal technicality. But a civil lawsuit contends that he admitted his guilt to the girl's parents and left them a $20,000 check. That suit also says that Jiang's boss, Archbishop Robert Carlson, asked the parents to turn the check over to him. Instead, they gave it to police.  
Instead of putting Jiang in a remote treatment center, Carlson let him live just six minutes away from his old parish. And in April of this year, Jiang was arrested again, this time for molesting a boy.  
Clerics continue to assault kids and bishops continue with their cover ups. 

My question: where's Francis in all of this? And if he's with Lombardi and Tomasi (and how could they not be speaking with his blessing?), then where does hope lie for any meaningful reform of the Catholic institution at present? To quote Jim Jenkins (who would probably not agree with my pessimistic assessment of the pope's role here), are all of us Catholics who placed such hope in Pope Francis as a reformer really watching the "evolutionary extinction" of our church continue to play out on his watch?

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