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Saturday, January 18, 2014

UN Grills the Vatican: 5 Remarkable Moments

Courtesy of Bishop Accountability, Boston

For six hours in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday, two Vatican officials faced the 18 human rights experts who make up the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, fielding a polite bombardment of pointed questions on child sexual abuse. To help the UN Committee prepare its approach, submitted a letter and report; these provide, we think, succinct and powerful overviews of the Holy See's involvement in child sexual abuse worldwide.See our submission here.
Yesterday's hearing contained many important moments and a few revelations, not all of which were captured in news reports. We thought we'd list five that struck us as particularly significant.
1. For the first time, the Vatican had to admit publicly that it still does not require the reporting of child sex crimes to civil authorities. Committee member Jorge Cardona of Spain asked, "Shouldn't the Guidelines [the Vatican's 2011 instructions to bishops' conferences on abuse policies] refer to the fact that in all cases crimes must be reported?" Bishop Charles Scicluna replied, "Our guideline is to follow domestic law." [See more on this issue in our Report.]
2. The Committee's most repeated question? They want the data about abuse cases that the Holy See has refused to provide. Committee chair Kirsten Sandberg of Norway reiterated the request six times.  "You say that providing data is up to the country where the crime takes place. But your giving out data would help ... You have these data and could provide them. We ask again that you provide us ... the data that has been asked for." [See our discussion of the Holy See's data in our Letter to the Committee.]
3. The Vatican believes that it is the obligation of the individual perpetrator, not the Church, to compensate victims, Bishop Charles Scicluna said: "We promote personal responsibility. The person causing the damage has the duty to compensate." (In a 2012 interview,Scicluna called civil court rulings that the Church is liable "unfair.")
4. The Holy See appears to have no intention to return nuncio Józef Wesołowski to the Dominican Republic to face charges that he sexually abused five boys there.  The Holy See's Permanent Observer to the UN, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said yesterday that Wesolowski will be tried instead in the Vatican, under the city state's newly revised criminal code.
5. Religious orders, which comprise one third to one half of the world's Catholic clerics, still are not being compelled by the Holy See to create abuse policies. This fact was uncovered by Committee member Cardona, who asked about the Holy See's "Circular Letter" of May 2011. Cited frequently by the Holy See as proof that it now "gets it," the Circular Letter requires bishops' conferences in every country to develop binding abuse policies. "Is it also for religious orders? Are there instructions for Jesuits, Benedictines ...?" It pertains only to bishops' conferences, Scicluna conceded. But "there is a section that says major superiors are 'strongly invited'" to participate, he added.
The Committee is the first international entity to hold the Holy See publicly accountable for its obligations to keep children safe from sexual violence. Its inquiry has been profoundly constructive. We look forward to its concluding report, which is due in early February.

Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director 

The Monitor UN Grills the Vatican: 5 Remarkable Moments | January 17, 2014

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