(Photo: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini)
The Roman Catholic Church has responded to a highly critical U.N. report demanding that it stop protecting child abusing clergy, by claiming it is doing more than any other international organization to combat the highly-publicized problem.
"Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a crime and no organization can become complacent about addressing it. The Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem and it will continue to lead in doing so," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a post following the publication of a report by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The report, a follow-up to a U.N. panel which in January directly questioned Holy See representatives at a conference in Geneva about the Vatican's record on child sex abuse handling, demands that the Catholic Church "immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes."
The U.N. Committee also said church authorities, including some at the highest levels of the Holy See, have "shown reluctance and in some instances, refused to cooperate with judicial authorities and national commissions of inquiry" when it came to protecting children and punishing abusive clergy.
Vatican officials have issued several responses to the damaging report, which has made headline news around the world, and although they have pledged to do better on the issue, they stated that some sections of the report directly contradict Catholic Church teaching.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, claimed that the U.N. report might not be "up to date" as it fails to take into account the actions the Holy See has taken with regard to child abuse cases, as stated during the Geneva conference.
Tomasi also responded to the U.N. committee's appeal that the church re-evaluate its abortion stance, particularly when it comes to a woman's life at risk.
"The Committee urges the Holy See to review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls and to amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted," the committee said.
Tomasi rejected the suggestion. "… I would say that there is a difficulty apparent in understanding the position of the Holy See, that cannot certainly give up certain teachings that are part of their deep convictions – and also an expression of freedom of religion – and these are the values that in the tradition of the Catholic Church sustain the common good of society and therefore cannot be renounced," he stated.
"For example, the committee asked for acceptance of abortion, and this is a contradiction of the principle of life that the convention itself should support, recommending that children be protected before and after birth. If a child is eliminated or killed we can no longer talk about rights for this person."
The U.N. committee specifically expressed concern over the case of a 9-year-old girl in Brazil who had an emergency life-saving abortion in 2009 after being raped by her stepfather. The Archbishop of Pernambuco sanctioned the mother of the girl and the doctor who performed the abortion.
Sister Walsh noted that any call for the Vatican to change its teachings compromises the report.
"Unfortunately, the report is weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception," she wrote. "This seems to violate the U.N.'s obligation from its earliest days to defend religious freedom. In 1948, the organization adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declared that 'everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.'"
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which has often criticized the Vatican for what it sees as a lack of action on child abuse cases, praised the U.N. report in a statement on Wednesday and slammed those defending the Holy See in this case.
"The vast bulk of the United Nations panel's findings have nothing to do with birth control, homosexuality, abortion or doctrine. But the church hierarchy ignores this because deep down, they know they cannot defend the indefensible – their consistent, deliberate, and selfish decisions that safeguard their own reputations and hurt their own flocks," SNAP wrote.
"It's disingenuous for Catholic officials to trot out the 'religious freedom' canard when confronted with uncontroverted evidence of massive wrongdoing."