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Vatican grilled on sexual abuse by United Nations

HONG KONG (SE): The Vatican state underwent its second periodic review at the United Nations (UN) on January 16 on its implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which it ratified in 1990.

The Vatican submitted its first report in 2004, before coming under criticism when reports of sexual abuse by clergy and Church personnel exploded in 2010. It submitted its second report for review in 2012.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the permanent observer from the Vatican to the UN, headed the delegation and described the review as gruelling, but productive.

Archbishop Tomasi said that the protection of children remains a major concern for contemporary society, as well as for the Holy See.

“Abusers are found among members of the clergy and other Church personnel,” he explained, adding, “The Holy See has carefully delineated policies and procedures designed to help eliminate such abuse and to collaborate with state authorities to fight against the crime.”

A member of the delegation, Bishop Charles Scicluna, told Vatican Radio that he found the review important and fruitful, as it contained interactive dialogue.

He said that it was an extremely long session, but engaging. “The rapporteur had important concerns to express and we had a very important and fruitful interactive dialogue,” he said.

He explained that he was able to tell the rapporteur that the Holy See gets the point and as a sovereign state it is implementing the convention.

However, he added that the position of the Holy See is more complex than that, as apart from being a sovereign state, it is also the central organ of the Catholic Church and must delegate responsibility to individual dioceses and religious congregations around the world.

Nevertheless, he insisted that the Vatican is honouring the convention, as canon law, which is an important expression of the jurisdiction of the Holy See, is constantly being revised, as happened in 2010, when substantial revisions were made.

Since the explosion of the revelation of the extent of sexual abuse within the Church, almost double the number of priests, who had been defrocked in the previous two years, were laicised in the period up to 2012.

However, this does not necessarily mean that the number of abuse cases has increased, but is at least partly explained by the doubling of the reporting period by the Vatican, which means that victims in their 30s and 40s have received a new opportunity to report crimes from the dim distant past.

Although it was not within the scope of the questioning committee to ask about individual cases, Bishop Scicluna said that the only current case under Vatican territorial authority is that of the former Vatican nuncio to the Dominican Republic, because he is a citizen of the Vatican state.

Archbishop Tomasi explained to the committee and the rapporteur that his case was still under investigation and all the facts related to it have yet to emerge.

However, he pointed out that cases of people who are citizens of other states are dealt with locally, by their own dioceses and sovereign governments, and must be addressed locally.

Archbishop Tomasi told the commission, “On the international level, the Holy See has taken concrete action by the ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1990.

In 2000, the Holy See accorded to the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, as well as the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.”

He then pointed out where canon law comes in, noting that the Holy See has formulated guidelines for local Churches to develop effective measures within their jurisdictions to combat child abuse.

“Local Churches, taking into account the domestic law in their respective countries have developed guidelines and monitored their implementation with the aim of preventing any additional abuse and dealing promptly with it,” he told the committee.

“The result of the combined action taken by local Churches and by the Holy See presents a framework that, when properly applied, will help eliminate the occurrence of child sexual abuse by clergy and other Church personnel,” the American-educated Italian bishop said.

However, the phrase “properly applied” is one of the sticking points. To date, Australia is unique in that it is the only local Church to be the subject of a Royal Commission on its institutional response to sexual abuse.

While not the only organisation within the scope of the commission, it has not always come up rosy and a senior priest told the Sunday Examiner that some bishops have dragged the chain in the setting up of appropriate structures to deal adequately with allegations.

“In many ways we have been let down badly by our bishops,” he said, adding that in responding to the demands of canon law some have been inexcusably tardy and others lax.


Archbishop Tomasi concluded by saying, “In the end, there is no excuse for any form of violence against or exploitation of children” and Bishop Scicluna concluded his interview saying, “(The hearing) does bring great visibility to concerns and issues on the international level, but it is and has been an occasion where the Holy See not only listens to concerns, but publicly expresses its commitment towards the values of the convention.”

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