The Vatican answers to the UN Committee Against Torture — CCR and SNAP report back
6 May 2014
Greetings from Geneva where, this Monday and Tuesday, the United Nations Committee Against Torture will question the Vatican about its record on child sexual violence.
This is the second time this year the Vatican has been called by an international body to account for its handling of the crisis of sexual violence throughout the Catholic Church. CCR will be there again with our clients, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), to attend the proceedings and report back to survivors, advocates, and supporters via live stream. Tune in to our report-back on Tuesday, May 6, at 8:30 pm CET (2:30 pm EST).
You can follow the global conversation about this historic hearing on Twitter using the hashtag #VaticanAccountability and ask questions before or during the report-back by tweeting to the hashtag or emailing your questions to askCCR@ccrjustice.org. We will answer as many as possible during the live stream.
Throughout the world, children and vulnerable adults have been and continue to be subjected to widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence by priests and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican’s policies and practices enable this violence. The Committee Against Torture has been clear that rape and sexual violence constitute forms of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In April, SNAP and CCR submitted reports to the Committee, detailing how the Vatican has violated the core principles of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, which it ratified in 2002.
UN Committee Against Torture criticises Vatican handling of sex abuse
Experts reject argument that Vatican only exercises control over city state and is not accountable for priests’ actions worldwide
Lizzy Davies in Rome
Friday 23 May 2014 15.43 BST
The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) has criticised the Vatican‘s handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal, urging the Catholic church to do more to punish perpetrators, help victims and place “meaningful sanctions” on clerics who fail to deal properly with credible allegations.
In observations published on Friday following a two-day hearing this month, the panel’s 10 experts rejected the Holy See’s argument that it only exercises control over the tiny Vatican City State and cannot be held accountable for the actions of Catholic priests and bishops throughout the world.
They called on the Holy See to “take effective measures” to monitor individuals under its “effective control” and to “stop and sanction” conduct that would constitute “credible allegations of violations of the [UN] Convention [against Torture]”.
Before the report had even been released, the Vatican issued a statement declaring that it had not been found to be “in violation” of the convention.
But advocates of abuse victims rejected this outright, labelling the report “a historic document” that they said recognised clerical sexual abuse as a form of torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.
“They’re clearly wrong,” said Pam Spees of the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights, regarding the Vatican’s assertion. “This is an important recognition of the gravity of these offences that have been minimised by the church, places responsibility where it belongs – with the hierarchy in the church, not the victims – and could help open new avenues for redress.”
Felice D Gaer, the CAT’s American vice-chair, told the Guardian: “Legal scholars will tell you that when we write about a concern and make a recommendation we are identifying something that is not in conformity with the requirements of the convention. We don’t use the word ‘violation'; others do. But it’s quite clear it’s not in conformity with the requirements of the convention.”
The report was the first issued by the CAT into the Holy See, and comes after another UN panel – the Committee on the Rights of the Child – issued a scathing rebuke to the Vatican in February, calling it out not only on its handling of child sex abuse cases but also on its stances on abortion and homosexuality.
Those findings prompted an angry response from the Vatican, which accused the panel of ideologically motivated interference in church teachings.
The CAT report, while critical of the church’s sex abuse record, praises it for the steps taken, and, crucially, leaves out any mention of reproductive rights, which some campaigners had urged the panel to consider.
John L Allen, long-term Vatican observer and correspondent for the Boston Globe, said the difference between the two reports indicated the CAT had not wanted its criticisms to be vulnerable to similar attacks.
“It’s pretty clear that, the last time around, the Vatican and its allies used the fact that there was a lot of language in that report that wasn’t about sex abuse – it was about abortion, homosexuality and so on, culture wars – to suggest that it was ideologically driven. They also complained that it had not acknowledged any positive steps the church had taken,” he said.
“They styled the whole thing as a sort of political exercise – you know, axe-grinding and so on. It would seem clear to me that the Committee Against Torture did not want its findings to be dismissed in the same way.”
In its report, the CAT panel noted progress made by the church on the clerical sex abuse scandal, for example welcoming Pope Francis’s establishment of a commission for the protection of minors, and his statement in April that the church needed to be “even stronger” in its tackling of the problem.
The UN experts also welcomed the Vatican’s publication for the first time this month of comprehensive statistics on how many Catholic priests had been disciplined following abuse allegations. But they added that the Holy See had not provided data regarding how many abuse allegations had been reported to the civil law enforcement authorities in the relevant countries.
The CAT said it was “concerned” by reports that some church officials “resist the principle of mandatory reporting of [abuse] allegations to civil authorities”, urging the church to prevent “credibly accused” abusers being simply transferred to other parishes and dioceses “for the purposes of avoiding proper investigation and punishment of their crimes.”
Any church official who failed to handle credible allegations “with due diligence” should be punished, it added.
Citing the case of Polish archbishop Josef Wesolowski, a former papal envoy to the Dominican Republic accused of sex abuse, it said the Holy See should “if warranted … ensure such persons are criminally prosecuted or extradited for prosecution by the civil authorities” of the relevant country.
It also said it was “deeply concerned” by reports of victims being unable to obtain adequate redress or compensation for their suffering and asked the Vatican to set up an independent complaints mechanism.
In its statement, the Vatican said: “The Holy See condemns sex abuse as a serious crime and a grave violation of human dignity.” It noted the criticisms within the report and said it would “give serious consideration” to its recommendations.
UN Committee Addresses Clergy Rape and Sexual Violence as Torture. Despite Objections and Early Pressure from Vatican Officials, Committee Takes on Church Policies and Practices That Enable Widespread Sexual Violence by Clergy: here.