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CHILDREN’S RIGHTS/ How the Holy See was ambushed by a UN kangaroo court

In its report the UN committee on children’s rights betrays an extraordinary misunderstanding of the nature of the Church and the Holy See and a deep ignorance of facts. By AUSTEN IVEREIGH

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The UN watchdog on children’s rights which recently hauled the Vatican over the coals for its handling of sex abuse has today released its recommendations. The report is not only ignorant and misguided, peddling myths for which there is no foundation, but betrays an extraordinary misunderstanding of the nature of the Church and the Holy See, while seeking to impose an ideology of gender and sexuality in violation of the UN’s own commitment to religious freedom.

Although the Holy See has responded diplomatically to the report, promising to look at the recommendations, the Secretariat of State cannot possibly accept them without doing violation to the nature of the Church. By adopting the mythical framework peddled by victims’ advocacy groups and lawyers, and ignoring the evidence put to it by the Holy See on 16 January (see CV Comment here, and Archbishop Tomasi’s speech here), the Committee has shown itself to be a kangaroo court. The Holy See can only now consider withdrawing its signature to the Convention. The Committee has very seriously undermined both its own credibility and that of the UN as a whole.

The 16-page UN report is so full of crass errors and myths that it is impossible to tackle them all. But the principal faults can be gathered under the three headings of 1) ignorance about the Church’s record on abuse 2) misunderstanding about the Church 3) attempt to impose an ideology of sexuality and gender.

1) Ignorance of the Church’s record of abuse

Nowhere in the Report is there an acknowledgement that the Catholic Church in the western world has led safeguarding, creating guidelines and best practices which are routinely recommended by governments to other institutions to emulate. Nor does it acknowledge that the Holy See at least since 2001 has been the catalyst of those best practices, cajoling bishops’ conferences across the world to put in place measures of the sort pioneered in the US and the UK. Instead, the Report peddles the myth (29) that “the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests”. If there is substance to that claim pre-2000, the opposite is now the case, and nowhere is this acknowledged. This, no doubt, was designed to produce headlines like the BBC’s — ‘UN slams Vatican for protecting priests over child abuse’ — in order to sustain the myth of the Church, and the Vatican in particular, as an unreformed institution, when all the evidence points the other way.

In order to sustain that myth, the Report calls for the Vatican, for example, to inculcate the notion that the best interests of children are paramount, when this has been a central tenet of the Holy See’s efforts for at least the past decade. It claims (43-44) that “well-known child sex abusers have been transferred from parish to parish” when this was true of the 1970s-80s but hardly ever at all from the early 1990s, when the bishops began seriously to tackle the problem.