A United Nations commission report on the Vatican’s response to abuse of children was not “fair or particularly helpful,” but took an “ideological” approach, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has said.
In a Feb. 7 post on his blog, Cardinal O’Malley said that he was “surprised” to read accounts of the recent report on the Holy See issued by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.
He said he had thought the commission would “examine the policies and practices” of the Vatican before making the report. Doing so would have provided a “valuable contribution” because the Holy See “needs to model policies for child protection for the rest of the dioceses in the world,” he reflected.
“Instead they extrapolated to the life of the Church, which is not their competency, and interjected many of their own ideological preferences.”
In its Feb. 5 report, the U.N. committee claimed that the Vatican had “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children. The report said the Church should open its files on previous cases of abuse. It criticized Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception and abortion, advocating a change in Catholic doctrine.
The report has attracted critics including Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence with the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a foreign policy think tank.
“In this report the Vatican is publicly shamed – and then urged to redeem itself by bowing before the altar of the U.N.,” she said in a Feb. 9 Wall Street Journal opinion article.
She argued that the report faults the Vatican for “not subordinating itself wholesale to a much broader U.N. agenda.” It pushes for the Vatican to use its influence to “disseminate world-wide a roster of U.N. views and policies that run counter to those of the Catholic Church.”
Rosett also objected to the U.N.’s handling of abuse cases.
“Exposing abusers and holding them to account is a great idea. The Vatican has spent years addressing the scandal of its own past handling of such cases. But the U.N. hardly engages in the transparency it is now promoting.”
Rosett said that the U.N. has not solved “its own festering problems of peacekeeper sex abuse.” She said that the international organization does not release the names of accused sex abusers in its peacekeeping forces and often sends accused individuals back to their home countries where they usually face no penalties.
From 2007-2013, the U.N. reported more than 600 allegations of rape or sexual exploitation, with 354 allegations substantiated. Many of the accusations involve minors.
In addition, Rosett objected to the presence of “human-rights-challenged countries” on the U.N. children’s rights committee, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka.
She noted that the committee’s last report on Saudi Arabia mentioned a 2002 fire at a girls’ school in Mecca that killed 15 girls. While the committee voiced concerns about building safety standards, it did not mention that the country’s morality police drove some students back into the burning building because they were not dressed according to public standards.
She also contended that the U.N. committee’s report on North Korea – where children suffer from famines and can be sent to prison labor camps – lacked “the fervor with which the committee has denounced the Vatican for failing to explicitly forbid corporal punishment.”
Rosett further said that the United States never ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in order to avoid “gross intrusion by unaccountable U.N. ‘experts’.”
“This treaty has less to do with children than with political power plays, and a fitting reform at the Vatican would be to walk away from it.”
The U.N. commission report prompted a swift response from several Catholic leaders.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who heads the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio Feb. 5 that the report was “in some ways not up to date.” He drew attention to the Church’s recent efforts to protect minors from abuse.
He said it is “very difficult” to find other institutions or states that have “done so much specifically for the protection of children.”
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Feb. 7 that the U.N. committee’s comments “seem to go beyond its powers and to interfere in the very moral and doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church.” He said that the presentation of the committee’s observations suggests it gave disproportional attention to non-governmental organizations with “well-known” prejudices against the Catholic Church.