The Holy See faced tough questioning about sexual abuse during an appearance before a UN commission against torture on Monday.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the UN in Geneva, gave a presentation to the commission on implementation of the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), to which the Holy See is a signatory.
Several commission members argued that the Vatican should be held responsible for sexual abuse of children, insisting it was a form of torture. But Archbishop Tomasi strongly disagreed, saying the Vatican cannot be held responsible for violation of laws in other countries.
He stressed that the Holy See agreed to sign the convention with the explicit understanding that the Vatican’s ability to enforce the treaty applied only to the territory of the Vatican city-state.
“It should be stressed, particularly in light of much confusion, that the Holy See has no jurisdiction – as that term is understood also under article 2.1 of the Convention – over every member of the Catholic Church,” the archbishop said.
Felice Gaer, an American human-rights attorney and vice-chair of the UN commission, ignored the archbishop’s argument, claiming that the Vatican was attempting to restrict its responsibility to “a subdivision” of itself.
“We have received numerous allegations of intimidation of witnesses and shifting of finances to avoid payment (of compensation),” she said.
But Archbishop Tomasi told Reuters Television that the reduction in the number of cases of abuse showed that “effective” action taken by the Church was working.
“I think that in this kind of situation there will never be enough done. The damage has been done, reparation has to continue,” he said.
In comments to Vatican Radio, he said:
“The delegation of the Holy See presented its point of view and emphasized first of all that the Convention has been signed and ratified by the Holy See on behalf – and only on behalf – of the Vatican City State. In this way, the implementation of the Convention under the responsibility of the Holy See, applies to the territory of Vatican City State.
Obviously, some people don’t agree with this statement because they feel that the authority of the Holy See extends to the institutions and the persons of the Catholic Church at large. But from a juridical point of view, this is not accurate and there is an important distinction to be kept in mind between a juridical responsibility and a moral, spiritual, pastoral responsibility.
Then, the members of the Committee raised a series of questions that deal with specific cases that happened in different countries of the world for which they would like to have explanations and accurate information. Mostly, (these are) cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of personnel working for the Church and the assumption it seems at work in this situation (is) that the Holy See is directly responsible for the behavior of every priest and of every employee of any Church institution in the world which of course is not the case.
And then, I must underline the fact that the Chairman of the Committee has tried to be very fair, pointing out the good actions and measures – legal and pastoral I would say – undertaken by the Church in the last few years. And at the same time, he also posed some questions that need to be answered.
At the moment we are reflecting and preparing the conclusions to be presented tomorrow, giving as much information as we can so that the objective of this exercise, the protection of people from abusive and humiliating behavior, may be realized. So from this point of view, the Holy See is happy to collaborate with the Committee but at the same time, it will probably not accept that the Committee goes beyond its boundaries into areas that belong to other committees like the Committee of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and at the same time, maintain a civilized climate of dialogue with every member of this Committee.”