By PAUL LIKOUDIS
Officials of the Holy See were grilled by members of the United Nations human rights committee in Geneva January 16 over the sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
Among those representing the Holy See were Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who for ten years was the top official in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealing with priests who committed crimes against children, and Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Bishop Scicluna admitted that the Holy See was slow to recognize the depth of the problem, which slowly emerged into public view in the 1990s and exploded into the global press after the depth of the problem was exposed in Boston, leading, eventually, to the resignation of Bernard Cardinal Law over his handling of the crisis.
After Boston, horrific tales of abuse by priests and religious were revealed in Ireland, Australia, Belgium, Germany, and other countries.
Bishop Scicluna told his interrogators that prosecutors in local jurisdictions should take actions against any Church officials who obstruct justice. He also told the committee:
“The Holy See gets it. Let’s not say too late or not. But there are certain things that need to be done differently.”
In the dossier that the Holy See presented to the UN committee, it was revealed that in the past two years, Pope Benedict defrocked 384 priests for the abuse of minors, 260 priests in 2011 and another 124 in 2012.
An analysis of the data by Inside the Vatican’s Gerard O’Connell confirmed that in 2011, 124 priests were dismissed “ex ufficio,” that is, forcibly dismissed from the ministry, while another 135 requested dispensations from the priesthood and this was granted.
In 2012, 57 priests were dismissed “ex ufficio,” that is, forcibly removed from the ministry, while another 67 requested dispensations from the priesthood and were granted this.
“All these cases,” reported O’Connell, “were dealt with by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and its conclusions were confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in his last two years in office.
“The number of priests defrocked in the two year period 2011-2012 is much higher than that for 2008-2009, and sources attribute this rise to the fact that the Vatican introduced new legislation in 2010 allowing for the dismissal of priests by administrative decision and extending the statute of limitations.
“Fr. David Cito, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome, who has helped the Vatican prosecute priests who abused minors, told AP that the real number of priests removed from the ministry could be much higher since the Yearbook only gives the figures of those cases sent to the Pope, not those decided by diocesan tribunals in different countries.”
Sara Oviedo, the human rights committee’s lead investigator, asked why, if the Church has a “zero tolerance” policy on abusive priests, there were efforts to cover up the crimes.
In his presentation to the committee, Archbishop Tomasi explained why the Holy See ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, and stated that it was committed to full compliance. He also told the committee:
“The protection of children remains a major concern for contemporary society and for the Holy See. The UN report on Violence Against Children, issued in 2006, cited shocking WHO estimates that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 ‘experienced forced sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual violence involving physical contact.’
“Even if they contain a significant margin of error, these estimates should never be ignored nor overshadowed by other priorities or interests on the part of the international community.
“Moreover, this estimate does not include projections on the number of victims of child labor and child trafficking, whether for sexual exploitation, forced work, sale of organs, and other shameful reasons. Although little is known about the magnitude of the problem, the International Labor Organization, in 2002, estimated that there were 1.2 million children being trafficked each year.”
He also told the committee that abusers are “found among members of the world’s most respected professions, most regrettably, including members of the clergy and other church personnel….
“Confronted with this reality, the Holy See has carefully delineated policies and procedures designed to help eliminate such abuse and to collaborate with respective state authorities to fight against this crime. The Holy See is also committed to listen carefully to victims of abuse and to address the impact such situations have on survivors of abuse and on their families.”
He also reminded the committee that the Holy See only has specific jurisdiction, in cases involving abuse by clergy and religious, over Vatican City State, even if it has “formulated guidelines to facilitate the work of the local Churches to develop effective measures within their jurisdiction and in conformity with canonical legislation.”
“Given the unique standing of the Holy See within the international community, and the presence of the local Churches in so many parts of the world,” the archbishop continued, “the Catholic Church is keen to become an example of best practice in this important endeavor as required by the high values and ideals incorporated in the convention and its protocols.”
The archbishop also stated the seven key principles the Holy See “promotes as an authentic perspective of the rights and duties of the child according to international law.
“They may be articulated as the following:
“1) the child has inherent dignity as a human being and human person from the moment of conception until natural death; 2) the child’s rights and duties must be viewed within the context of the family; 3) full respect of the child’s rights and duties require special protection and promotion of the family’s rights and duties; 4) the child’s well-being is the primary responsibility of his or her parents and family; and 5) the child has rights and duties with respect to the protection of his or her own life and parents have co-relative duties and rights to safeguard the child’s life, from the moment of conception until natural death; 6) the child has a right and duty to be educated and parents have corresponding duties and rights to educate the child; and 7) the child has rights and duties concerning religious freedom taking into consideration the parents’ duties and rights to educate their child according to their own moral and religious beliefs.”