Rights of the Child

Written By: luke4079 - Feb• 05•14

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, on January 31, 2014, published its concerns and offered its recommendations in regard to the Holy See’s role in the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

The committee concluded that it is gravely concerned the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators.

The committee also offered the following observations:

1. The Committee notes that subordinates in Catholic religious orders are bound by obedience to the Pope. The Committee therefore reminded the Holy See that by ratifying the Convention, it had committed itself to implementing the Convention not only on the territory of the Vatican City State but also as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority.

2. The Committee is particularly concerned that in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See had consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests, as observed by several national commissions of inquiry.

3. The Committee reminds the Holy See that the right of children to freely express their views constitutes one of the most essential components of children’s dignity and that ensuring this right is a legal obligation under the Convention, which leaves no leeway for the discretion of the States parties.

4. The Committee welcomes the statement of the delegation of the Holy See that a possible withdrawal of its reservations to the Convention is currently under consideration. In light of its previous recommendation, the Committee reiterates its concerns about the Holy See’s reservations to the Convention which undermine the full recognition of children as subjects of rights and condition the application of the Convention on its compatibility with the sources of law of the Vatican City State. The Committee recommends that the Holy See undertake the necessary steps to withdraw all its reservations and to ensure the Convention’s precedence over internal laws and regulations.

SEXUAL EXPLOITATION AND ABUSE {The following section in the committee report concerns the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and has been edited for reading purposes.}

The Committee expresses its deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide. The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators. The Committee is particularly concerned that:

(a) Well-known child sexual abusers have been transferred from parish to parish or to other countries in an attempt to cover-up such crimes, a practice documented by numerous national commissions of inquiry. The practice of offenders’ mobility, which has allowed many priests to remain in contact with children and to continue to abuse them, still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children;

(b) The Holy See has declined to provide the Committee with data on all cases of child sexual abuse brought to its attention over the reporting period and the outcome of the internal procedure in these cases;

(c) Child sexual abuse, when addressed, has been dealt with as “grave delicts against the moral” through confidential proceedings providing for disciplinary measures which have allowed the vast majority of abusers and almost all those who concealed child sexual abuse to escape judicial proceedings in States where abuses were committed;

(d) Due to a code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication, cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where such crimes occurred. On the contrary, cases of nuns and priests ostracized, demoted and fired for not having respected the obligation of silence have been reported to the Committee as well as cases of priests who have been congratulated for refusing to denounce child abusers, as shown in the letter addressed by Cardinal Castrillon Hojos to Bishop Pierre Pican in 2001;

(e) Reporting to national law enforcement authorities has never been made compulsory and was explicitly rejected in an official letter addressed to members of the Irish Episcopal Conference by Bishop Moreno and Nuncio Storero in 1997. In many cases, Church authorities, including 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.

(f) Limited efforts have been made to empower children enrolled in Catholic schools and institutions to protect themselves from sexual abuse.

THE COMMITTEE STRONGLY URGES THE HOLY SEE TO:

(a) Ensure that the Commission created in December 2013 will investigate independently all cases of child sexual abuse as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them. The Holy See should consider inviting civil society and victims organizations to join this Commission and international human rights mechanisms to support its work. The outcome of this investigation should be made public and serve to prevent the recurrence of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church;

(b) 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;

(c) Ensure a transparent sharing of all archives which can be used to hold the abusers accountable as well as all those who concealed their crimes and knowingly placed offenders in contact with children;

(d) Amend Canon Law in order for child sexual abuse to be considered as crimes and not as “delicts against the moral” and repeal all provisions which may impose an obligation of silence on the victims and on all those that become aware of such crimes;

(e) Establish clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation to law enforcement authorities;

(f) Ensure that all priests, religious personnel and individuals working under the authority of the Holy See are made aware of their reporting obligations and of the fact that in case of conflict, these obligations prevail over Canon law provisions;

(g) Develop programmes and policies for the prevention of such crimes and for the recovery and social reintegration of child victims, in accordance with the outcome documents adopted at the 1996, 2001 and 2008 World Congresses against Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm, Yokohama and Rio de Janeiro, respectively;

(h) Develop educational preventive programmes to increase children’s awareness of sexual abuse and to teach them the necessary skills with which to protect themselves; and

(i) Consider ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse

SOURCES:

1. FULL TEXT [PDF] of UN Report: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CRC/Shared%20Documents/VAT/CRC_C_VAT_CO_2_16302_E.pdf

2. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRC/Pages/CRCIndex.aspx

Post prepared by Patrick Emerton

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