UN Report on Child Sexual Abuse within the Vatican Sparks Backlash

by Sofia Infante


A United Nations Committee Report released by the UN Committee for the Rights of Child has ignited a firestorm of criticism from Catholic Church officials and leaders who accuse it of manipulating the child sex scandal to impose secular views and change Church doctrine, while ignoring the Church’s advancements in the area of child protection. The report, released on February 5, called for the Vatican to open its files to public review, enforce mandatory reporting to law enforcement officials, stating, “[The Vatican] has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.” The report also made recommendations concerning the Church’s views on same-sex marriage, contraception, and abortion.

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, commented that the committee’s recommendations would have more credibility “if it also worked to protect the most basic right of a child: the right to live." She also highlighted the Church’s commitment to facing the problem of sexual abuse by pointing out reforms instituted by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis in order to “strengthen the Church’s handling of sexual abuse”. The report’s recommendations regarding child sexual abuse have been criticized for betraying a misunderstanding of the structure of the Church. Austin Ivereigh, founder of Catholic Voices, an organization of lay faithful who defend the Church's teaching in the public sphere, accused the report of ignoring the local quality of the Church by mischaracterizing it as “the command and control centre of an army, or the HQ of a multinational.”


Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, branded the report outdated, remarking, "It is very difficult, I think, to find other institutions or even other states that have done so much specifically for the protection of children," He noted that the Church's social teachings ensure that "that children be protected before and after birth." U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) acknowledged that the Report serves as a legitimate reminder of the obligation to protect children, but that in seeking to make changes to Church doctrine, it “overreached in its efforts to discredit the Catholic Church's core teachings”. He noted, "In doing so, the U.N. - with the seemingly limitless worldwide injustices it could be condemning or investigating - trampled on the religious-freedom principles outlined in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights."


The report has been acknowledged as a powerful reminder of the growing problem of sexual abuse and our obligation to prevent it and to seek justice, but it has also garnered criticism for misunderstanding the nature of the Church, neglecting to acknowledge improvements made during the past two decades, and for attempting to obstruct religious freedom by asking the Church to change Her doctrine. Calling the report, a “lost opportunity” Sr. Walsh commented, “Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to Church”.


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