A United Nations special panel on torture held at the headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the Vatican was found to be guilty of both physical and psychological acts of torture across international borders. Citing the Church over sex abuse violations, the panel and activist groups also demanded that the Vatican change its views on abortion, contraception, as well as gay rights and marriage.
Participants of the United Nations panel on torture interrogated top Vatican authorities for over two hours, targeting the Catholic Church in its unsatisfactory dealing with abuse victims and not properly holding the guilty priests involved accountable. One of the participants stated that a “climate of impunity,” or exemption from punishment, exists within the Vatican.
In 2002, the committee members agreed to ban physical torture, as well as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment at a worldwide convention. The panel in Geneva was the second time Vatican officials have been called in for questioning, marking the previous meeting where the Vatican was heavily criticized on matters of sexual crimes by the United Nations.
Last January, members of the committee on children’s rights were furious at the Vatican’s so-called “territorial argument,” which states that the torture treaty the Vatican signed only applies to the little Vatican state, but not to any of its guilty clergy members worldwide. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations, said in an opening statement to the panel that when the Vatican had originally agreed to the physical torture treaty, that the state did so with “very clear and direct intention.”
However, Felice Gaer, the United Nation’s chief reporter from the United States, alerted the present Vatican officials during the panel that dealing solely with the Vatican state would follow with an increased amount of instances of abuse among guilty priests who would then be “excluded from consideration by this committee, and this troubles us.”
The United Nations panel then noted that priests are “bound by obedience to the pope,” according to set canon law. Therefore, the Vatican and Pope Francis are all accountable for the physical and psychological torture inflicted by its guilty priests’ utter misconduct, no matter what country in which these actions happen to take place. In response, the children’s rights committee deeply criticized the Vatican for knowingly protecting guilty priests who prey on children, while leaving “tens of thousands” of children to face sexual abuse.
During the panel, the children’s rights committee also criticized Catholic beliefs regarding abortion, women’s rights to contraception, as well as gay marriage. The group accuses the Vatican of both physical and psychological abuse due to the mental impact these negative teachings have on regular citizens around the globe. Specifically, Church teachings regarding abortion have led to unsafe, “back-alley” abortions which are ultimately traumatizing for the female, who subsequently suffer great physical and psychological harm.
Activist groups involved in the panel expressed their hopes that naming rape as an act of torture will spark more lawsuits and ultimately heavier punishments on guilty members of the clergy. Pam Spees, a lawyer for the United States Center for Constitutional Rights, reassures this claim, stating that this decision by the panel to equate rape with torture might persuade foreign courts to follow suit, due to the physical and psychological damage of rape. She goes on to state that since the panel has stated rape as being torture, this is a universal law that must be adhered to by all states who are part of the United Nations.
The pope himself, however, states that the Vatican has responsibly responded to the abuse, and that the Catholic Church is “possibly the only public institution” to do so. Creating a new panel on clergy abuse in Boston, many guilty clergy members still remain “in denial” over the current issue, according to activist groups.
Despite Vatican response to the charges posed by Geneva’s panel, a referendum due on May 23, 2014 will state whether or not the United Nations will hold the Vatican guilty of allowing its priests to inflict both physical and psychological torture on their victims worldwide.
By Scott Gaudinier