The Vatican’s representatives were given a serious grilling by a UN committee in Geneva today, over the decades long sex abuse scandal that has dogged the church.
The UN committee on the Rights of the Child gave the Holy See the most aggressive public grilling it has yet faced in the wake of a series of child abuse scandals spanning decades. The Vatican was represented by its Ambassador to the UN, Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, and former Vatican Chief Prosecutor of Clerical Sexual Abuse, Charles Scicluna.
Abuse victims were also there, and had provided hundreds of pages of documentary evidence on the abuse scandal to the committee.
Under UN programs the Vatican has in fact ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, they became signatories in 1990. However they were accused of failing to provide updates that are required under the conventions terms. One of the principal complaints was that there was no mandatory reporting under the current Vatican process and it was suggested that taking action is essential for justice. The grilling continued over the Vatican sex abuse scandal as another member complained that the Vatican had has not established any internal process to investigate accusations of sexual abuse and had no way to prosecute them.
Charles Scicluna stated “There are certainly things that need to be done differently,” he said. However, having no process in place to prosecute sex abuse does not seem compatible with best practice.
The Holy See does not see itself as responsible for the actions of clergy around the world, this responsibility is delegated to national leaderships. Whereas Popes have long be happy to dictate doctrine from the Vatican, that must be followed world-wide, policing the churches criminal members is apparently not given the same status. It is curious that they should seek secular justice to act where they claim to be unable to be effective.
These answers were also rejected by members of support groups that have sprung up in the wake of the scandal “It is just so disingenuous for Church officials to claim that national governments are responsible for prosecuting clergy” said the leader of SNAP, the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Especially when it has been shown that Church officials have obstructed justice, move priests between jurisdictions, and other activities that suggest a cover up.
Members of SNAP have been criticised as Catholic haters, but they insist they simply want strong policing of sex abuse within the church, that some members are still a part of.
Recently the Catholic church has been given something of a new lease on life by the new Pope, Pope Francis. Who has regularly announced new initiatives within the church to modernise it, and clean up financial, and political processes, which have received strong outside criticism. His stance on the sexual abuse scandals, which he describes as “the shame of the church”, has been criticised as weak so far, and no major change in his position has been indicated recently.
The UN committee will itself provide a series of recommendations, however these will be non-binding and the Vatican will decide what it chooses to implement, if anything.
The Vatican reiterated that it now had a zero tolerance for sex abuse within the church, and remained committed to that policy. However, it is unlikely it will not be grilled again over this decades long scandal.
By Andrew Willig