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THE UN AND THE VATICAN/ Ivereigh: Understanding what went wrong

AUSTEN IVEREIGH, Catholic Voices, analyses the reactions in the Catholic world to the controversial Report which the UN committee on children’s rights recently issued on the Holy See

From Catholic Voices From Catholic Voices

Wednesday’s UN Report (February 5 – ed.)— which we criticized in a robust response and in various TV and radio interviews (a sample of which can be seen and heard at the bottom of the CV site here) — has been widely deplored, not least by those who have been stern critics of the Church’s record on abuse.

Our three main objections — that the report chose to ignore the obvious progress made, crassly misunderstood the nature of the Church, and sought to impose an obviously alien ideology — were endorsed by Bishop Charles Scicluna, the former Vatican point-man on abuse who was key to transforming the culture of denial in Rome, and who is described by Reuters as “the most authoritative Catholic official on the Church’s abuse crisis”. The same three criticisms were also later made by Fr Tom Rosica, who some consider to speak for the Vatican press office, in an interview on PBS.

Others described the Report as a missed opportunity, or warned, like the leading Vatican commentator John Allen (whose article is now behind a Boston Globe paywall), that it “may actually strengthen the hand of those still in denial in the Church on the abuse scandals by allowing them to style the UN report as all-too-familiar secular criticism driven by politics.

The liberal Catholic press – with the single exception of The Tablet – has been universally critical. In the US, for example, Commonweal describes it as “foolish” and “a mess”. Over at the National Catholic Reporter, a fierce critic of the Church over the abuse issue, Michael Sean Winters saysto hell with the UN”, while Fr Tom Reese wrote that the Report “is too easy to dismiss because it was poorly done”, not least because it “ignores what the Vatican has done to improve things. Pope Benedict XVI made zero tolerance the universal law of the church. That means that a priest who is involved in the abuse of a child can never function as a priest again. In the last two years of his papacy, around 400 priests were dismissed from the priesthood. In addition, local churches are to follow local laws with regard to reporting abuse to civil authorities. Benedict also ordered every episcopal conference in the world to draw up policies and procedures for handling sexual abuse cases. “

Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi also made the same criticisms, in terms if anything stronger than our post. The committee members went “beyond their competence and interfered in the doctrinal and moral positions of the Catholic Church”, he said, making suggestions that reveal an “ideological vision of sexuality”. The committee’s observations, he went on, presented “serious limitations”, not least in failing to take into account the responses – both written and oral – given by representatives of the Holy See before and during the Geneva hearing on 19 January. And he said the recommendations demonstrated a lack of understanding about how the Holy See is different from other states that signed the convention.

This cannot have come from lack of knowledge, Fr Lombardi points out, because the Holy See had repeatedly explained in detail to the committee and to other UN agencies that it has direct legal jurisdiction over those who live and work in the small territory of Vatican City State; and that while the Vatican has canonical and spiritual jurisdiction over Catholics around the world, priests and bishops are subject to the laws of their own nations.

“Is this impossible to understand or do they not want to understand it?” he asked. “In both cases, one has a right to be surprised.