The Vatican does not frequently issue strongly-worded statements, but spokesman Father Federico Lombardi reacted to the committee’s report without mincing words. He charged that the committee not only glossed over the efforts the Church has made to protect children and reform its prosecution system, but it also failed to understand the fundamental differences between the Holy See and other states.
If it was truly listening, the Committee on the Rights of the Child would have heard about the Vatican’s progress during a detailed briefing Church officials gave them almost three weeks before the report was released. However, when the committee published its findings, it displayed either an inability to listen to what was said, or an unwillingness to understand.
Father Lombardi concluded that the report “was practically already written, or at least already in large part blocked out before the hearing.”
I think that Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s reaction to the findings and the media blitz that followed captured what happened quite well. “It is very easy to get the headlines when you criticize the Church, however, I do not think the commission’s report has been either fair or particularly helpful.”
This activism by the U.N. committee presents a bizarre internal conflict, since the United Nations has spoken up on other occasions in defense of religious freedom and the right of churches to live out their faith.
It is certainly true that the Church must continue to improve its efforts to prevent child abuse. But the U.N. panel went way beyond offering advice on child abuse and used its influence to preach a secular “gospel” to the Church.
Secular values, like all claims to truth, are based on beliefs about what it means to be human, what it means to be free, what is good and what is true. Often, those who call on the Church to adopt secular values propose these beliefs as morally neutral or even as beneficial, branding them with slogans that make them appear in a positive light.
In the case of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child report, one could see the same methodology at work. But rather than accept the committee’s beliefs as they are being marketed, it is necessary to ask deeper questions about their implications.
The panel recommended, for example, that the Church change its teaching on abortion as a way to protect children. But how does this lead to anyone’s happiness or growth in goodness, let alone protect children, especially those in the womb? The U.N. seems to forget that every one of us was lived within our mother’s womb as unborn children.
In the case of contraception, the committee urged the Church to facilitate adolescents’ access to contraception. How would this in any way promote the moral health, mental health or growth in virtue of teens? The U.N. appears to be unaware of the studies that demonstrate the unhealthiness of early sexual intimacy for adolescents and the damage it does to them.
Aside from being misguided, the U.N. panel has shown how out of its depth it is. Their solutions are short-sighted because they fail to address the underlying moral issues raised by the complex problems they are trying to solve.
They are focused on preventing sexually transmitted diseases and preventing teen pregnancy but the committee’s response is insufficient. Instead of promoting virtue, the U.N. panel and many others in the medical community try to remedy moral shortcomings with condoms or drugs. In medical terms, they are treating the symptom but not the illness.
All of us, me included, need to routinely commit to examining the values we are living our lives by and ask if they lead to the greatest good anyone can hope to attain – eternal life.
Jesus came to this earth to “fully reveal man” to himself, the Vatican II document “Gaudium et Spes” said, and left to our own devices, we will always come up short.
Our society needs Catholics who share the transformative power of a relationship of love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and who express how that experience leads to a life of true satisfaction, how it reorients us to a life built on the true, good and beautiful.
Do not be afraid to speak up for the faith and the divinely revealed truths God has entrusted to us through his Son. The world needs this gift more than ever.
This column originally ran Feb. 18 in the Denver Catholic Register. Reprinted with permission.
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila currently serves as the Archbishop of Denver, Colo. with the episcopal motto, “Do whatever he tells you. (Jn 2:5)”