VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has accused a United Nations human rights committee of sowing confusion and violating its own norms and the church’s religious freedom with a controversial report into the Holy See’s record on child sexual abuse.
The Vatican released its formal written response Friday to a February report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which, among other things, accused the Vatican of maintaining a “code of silence” that enabled priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children worldwide over decades with impunity.
The committee monitors implementation of the UN child rights treaty. The Holy See was forced to testify before it as a treaty signatory.
In its response, the Vatican insisted that it is responsible for implementing the treaty only within the tiny Vatican City State.
The Vatican criticized the committee’s “grave misunderstanding” of state sovereignty and reiterated its concerns over “controversial new expressions” that threaten the unborn and religious freedom.
By insisting the Holy See should enforce the compliance of Catholics all over the world with international treaties signed by the Vatican, the committee “offers a controversial new approach to ‘jurisdiction,’ which clearly contradicts the general understanding of this concept of international law.”
“The Holy See, in accordance with the rules of international law, is aware that attempting to implement the C.R.C. (Convention on the Rights of the Child) in the territory of other states could constitute a violation of the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of states,” the Vatican wrote.
The Vatican published its official response on its website.
On Feb. 5, the UN committee released its “concluding observations” and concerns as part of its ongoing process of monitoring states parties’ adherence to the treaty; the Vatican ratified the children’s rights treaty in 1990, making it one of the first countries to do so.
The six-page response reiterated the same concerns Vatican representatives expressed during an all-day testimony Jan. 16 before committee members in Geneva and concerns Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, articulated Feb. 7 after the committee published its observations.
One of the committee’s major criticisms was that the Holy See and the pope, as head of the church, can and should order Catholic dioceses and religious orders around the world to implement all the policies of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which includes provisions against the sexual abuse of minors.
The Vatican always has insisted that church law requires bishops and religious superiors to obey local laws on reporting suspected crimes.
In its Sept. 26 comments, the Vatican wrote that the obligations stipulated in the UN conventions it signs apply only to the 108-acre territory of Vatican City State, Vatican citizens and “where appropriate, the diplomatic personnel of the Holy See or its officials residing outside the territory of Vatican City State.”
In fact, the Vatican put a laicized papal ambassador, former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, under house arrest Sept. 23 as he awaits a criminal trial for the sexual abuse of minors while serving as nuncio in the Dominican Republic.
In its written comments to the UN committee, the Vatican said, “The Holy See does not ratify a treaty on behalf of every Catholic in the world, and therefore, does not have obligations to ‘implement’ the convention within the territories of other states parties on behalf of Catholics,” who are and should be subject to the national laws of the countries they find themselves in.
“Attempting to implement the C.R.C. in the territory of other states could constitute a violation of the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of states,” it said.
The Vatican said all states should be concerned with “the grave implications of this erroneous approach” by the committee, which is suggesting parties must be committed to implementing the treaty through all its individuals and institutions living and operating around the world.
Other concerns the Vatican had with the committee’s “concluding observations,” include “controversial new expressions not contained in the convention and related principles, which contradict the ordinary meaning of the words in the text.”
It said it is “completely unacceptable” that the committee advocate for abortion when the convention’s original language says children require legal protection “before as well as after birth,” have a right to life and should receive “prenatal and postnatal health care.”
The Vatican disagreed with the committee’s observations that “subjective lifestyle choices and attractions” should be promoted as “a matter of ‘rights.'”
By insisting the Church change its teachings, reinterpret Scripture, and amend canonical laws to reflect current trends, the committee is infringing on “matters protected by the right to freedom of religion,” the Vatican said.
Saying the Church’s position on certain issues justifies discrimination is applying the important principle of nondiscrimination “in an unprincipled way, namely as a sword against religious freedom,” it said.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.