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Holy See responds to unfounded UN Committee attack
The report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, attacking the Catholic Church's actions in relation to sexual abuse of children, repeatedly cites instances of child sexual abuse which occurred in Ireland decades ago without conceding that the Church had addressed these issues.
The report ignored the Church's written response to its draft report, which included the text of Pope Benedict's address to the Irish bishops during their ad limina visit in 2006 where he frankly discussed the terrible crime of child abuse and insisted that the bishops had responsibility to address it, and his later Pastoral Letter addressed to the people of Ireland in 2010.
The UN Committee called on the Catholic Church to bring its teaching into conformity with the secular "rights agenda" of the UN, explicitly calling for the Church to recognise homosexual rights and abortion, and dispense contraceptives to children.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is one of many committees operating under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council. The Committee has 18 members elected for five year terms, and is chaired by Professor Kirsten Sandberg from Norway.
Its inquiry is the result of the fact that the Holy See is a signatory to various UN Conventions, including the Rights of the Child, and protocols against torture, trade in children, child prostitution and child pornography.
At the same time that the Committee reported on the Vatican, it also issued critical reports on six other countries, including the Congo and Yemen. These reports attracted no publicity: the attack on the Holy See was made front page news.
Typical of the Committee's recommendations is that "the Holy See take active measures to remove from Catholic schools' textbooks all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities."
The fact is that the Catholic Church has been the greatest supporter of children's development through its provision of education to boys and girls through all ages and cultures. The UN statement ignores all this.
The Committee also attempted to impose its absolute view of children's rights, and its rejection of the prior rights and duties of parents.
It said that "the right of children to freely express their views constitutes one of the most essential components of children's dignity, and ensuring this right is a legal obligation under the Convention which leaves no leeway for the discretion of the States parties."
The Committee also attacked the Church for its action in supported babies abandoned by their mothers, and called on it "to contribute to addressing the abandonment of babies by providing family planning [and] reproductive health", code words for contraceptives and abortion.
It also criticised the Church's position that civil authorities should intervene in the family only in cases where proven abuse has been committed in order not to interfere with the duties and rights of parents, and claimed that its position "seriously undermines efforts and measures to prevent abuse and neglect of children."
The Committee explicitly urged the Holy See "to review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls and to amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted."
In order to ensure its recommendations are widely distributed the Committee recommended that the Holy See distribute them to various Vatican congregations, as well as bishops' conferences and other bodies.
The Church responded to the Committee's claims cautiously, but directly.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who headed the Vatican delegation at the Committee's hearing in January in Geneva, was clearly taken aback by the scathing tone of the report.
"It seems as if the document was prepared before the committee meeting, where the Vatican gave detailed responses on various points that weren't reported in this concluding document or seem to not have been taken into consideration," he said.
"The document does not seem to take into account what, over the last few years, has been done by the Holy See, and then in various countries by the individual Episcopal Conferences."
He said that the report lacked a correct and updated perspective which recognised the changes which had been adopted in response to evidence of sexual misconduct, for the protection of children.
He referred specifically to the UN Committee's recommendation that the Church change its doctrine on abortion, pointing out that this "seems to me to be a real contradiction of the fundamental objective of the Convention [on the Rights of the Child], which is the protection of children.
"This Committee has not done a good service to the United Nations, seeking to introduce and request the Holy See to change its non-negotiable teaching.
"So, it is somewhat sad to see that the Committee has not grasped in depth the nature and functions of the Holy See that expressed clearly to the Committee its decision to carry forward the Convention's requests on the rights of the child, but defining precisely and protecting first of all those fundamental values that give real and effective protection to the child."
Responding to criticism of the Church's handling of clerical sexual abuse allegations, Archbishop Tomasi said, "There are about 40 million cases of child abuse in the world: unfortunately some of these cases – even though in small proportions in comparison to all those that are happening in the world – affect people in the Church. And the Church has responded and reacted and continues to do so.
"We must insist on this policy of transparency, of no tolerance of abuse, because even one single case of child abuse is one case too many," he concluded.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 2 (March 2014), p. 3
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