U.S. Catholic leaders criticized a United Nations committee report for trying to impose secular moral views and failing to acknowledge advancements made by the Church in the area of child protection.
Austen Ivereigh, founder of Catholic Voices, an organization of lay faithful who defend the Church's teaching in the public sphere, called the report “ignorant and misguided.”
He said that it “betrays an extraordinary misunderstanding of the nature of the Church and the Holy See” while seeking to “impose an ideology of gender and sexuality in violation of the U.N.’s own commitment to religious freedom.”
In a blog post analysis on Catholic Voices’ website, Ivereigh responded to a report issued Feb. 5 by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, which claimed that the Vatican “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children.
The report also criticized the Catholic Church's teachings on contraception, abortion and same-sex “marriage,” suggesting that the Church change its canon law to support these “rights.”
Ivereigh said that the U.N. committee failed to recognize the child protection programs and practices developed by the Church in response to problems with sex abuse.
He said the report ignored the Church's current “guidelines and best practices which are routinely recommended by governments to other institutions to emulate.”
Furthermore, the report confuses canon law with civil law, ignoring the Church’s local dimension and mischaracterizing the Church “as a kind of NGO,” Ivereigh said.
He added that the U.N. committee is trying to impose its secular view of sexuality on the Church by saying that it must change its views on life and marriage.
While the Holy See is still studying the 16-page document in order to give a complete response, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, issued an initial response to Vatican Radio, saying that the U.N.'s criticisms are “not up to date.”
“It is very difficult, I think, to find other institutions or even other states that have done so much specifically for the protection of children,” said Tomasi, adding that the Church's social teachings also make sure that “that children be protected before and after birth.”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.), himself a Catholic, said the U.N. report “has overreached in its efforts to discredit the Catholic Church’s core teachings.”
While the report serves as a legitimate reminder of the essential obligation to protect children, he said, it also seeks “to make political statements about Catholic doctrine on abortion, contraception, and marriage.”
“In doing so, the U.N. – with the seemingly limitless worldwide injustices it could be condemning or investigating – trampled on the religious-freedom principles outlined in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Noting that the U.N.’s human rights commission includes “serial abusers and murderers of men, women, and children as members,” and pointing to the organization’s inability to halt terrorism, human rights abuses and atrocities in countries such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, Rubio argued that the United Nations “is in very real danger of becoming obsolete in the 21st century.”
Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while the United Nations committee “is correct to voice concern over sexual abuse,” its claims would have more credibility “if it also worked to protect the most basic right of a child: the right to live.”
She explained that the “Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem” of sexual abuse, pointing to the robust programs the Church has enacted to protect children, prevent abuse and seek justice.
She also highlighted changes in practice instituted by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis to “strengthen the church’s handling of sexual abuse,” prosecute offenders, and develop policies for preventing abuse in dioceses worldwide.
Sr. Walsh charged that the report’s arguments are “weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception.”
Asking the Church to change its doctrine is an infringement on religious freedom and “the Church’s right to determine its own teachings,” she said.
“Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to church,” she continued, pointing to more than 80 Christians – including children – who were killed at a church in Pakistan in September 2013.
“When the U.N. committee strays into the culture wars to promote abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage, it undermines its noble cause and trades concern for children to concern for organizations with other agendas,” Sr. Walsh said.
“What a lost opportunity.”