Archbishop Tomasi Reflects on Recent UN Hearings

Tells ZENIT That Plague of Sexual Abuse in Society Must Make Us Ask How We Can Work with the Strength of the Gospel

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The Holy See has given answers in two sessions of the UN Committee on Torture, as do all countries that adhere to this United Nations Convention. In the interrogations on the subject, the case of minors abused by priests was also addressed. On Monday the Holy See answered that the territoriality that corresponds to it is that of Vatican City State, because the crimes committed in other countries enter in the jurisdiction of those States.

On Tuesday, the Holy See Permanent Observer at Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, presented other answers, indicating the virtually “capillary” measures that the Church has implemented in the last years, and revealing that, between 2004 and 2013, 848 priests were expelled, that measures have been taken in seminaries to form future priests adequately, and that the actions undertaken have marked a strong diminution of cases of pedophilia in the clergy and in the Church.

ZENIT spoke with Archbishop Tomasi in Geneva who indicated, as the final objective of the measures undertaken, the protection of children, to ensure their healthy and serene growth, so that they will be constructive persons in the society in which they live.

He pointed out that everyone should think of minors because, according to the World Health Organization, there are more than 40 million abuses annually and often in the family, in associations and in schools. And he invited to ask oneself how the force of the Gospel can work today to transform this culture and reinforce the normality of life and the healthy development of society.

–Q: Had the UN Committee perhaps somewhat confused torture with cases of abuse?

–Archbishop Tomasi: Some members of the CAT Committee transformed the situation somewhat, appealing to an article of the Convention against torture — article 16 –, which speaks of cruel, humiliating and inhuman behavior; therefore, considering that sexual violation is an action of this type they opened the door to put in iter these questions, which among other things are very attractive to the media.

–Q: The Holy See did not enter into the discussion as to whether the abuses are torture or less so, but it gave data on what it has undertaken against pedophilia.

–Archbishop Tomasi: In the Convention, the definition of “torture” is very precise and its extension to include sexual abuses is not accepted at this moment by the authorities on human rights. Naturally, the Catholic Church rejects any action that violates human dignity. However, there was perhaps another objective in this discussion. After all, often it’s repeated that the Church has obstructed and continues to obstruct actions against clergymen or priests who have committed crimes against minors, or that she ignores this reality or that she has not taken coherent initiatives.

–Q: Therefore, you answered presenting the numbers.

–Archbishop Tomasi: Giving the available statistics, it is clearly documented that in the last ten years the Church has taken a truly capillary action, I would say, of cleansing the house, seeking not only to punish the guilty from the canonical point of view, but also with the sanctions of the State of which they are citizens or residents. And she has created the conditions to prevent this type of crimes by taking specific measures in the formation of future priests and with the institution, by Pope Francis, of the Commission for the Protection of Minors.

–Q: And in regard to the victims?

–Archbishop Tomasi: In so far as possible, the Church has compensated the victims. She has done so with financial aid, for instance, giving in the United States more than 2.5 million dollars. However, she has done so offering also moral help, giving advice and spiritual support to facilitate their integration in the society and their taking up a normal life.

–Q: 848 priests have been expelled from the Church in ten years, no?

–Archbishop Tomasi: It is a fact, this is the reality. It is necessary to take into account that the majority of known cases of pedophilia happened in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Therefore, even if the denunciations of cases to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are recent, it does not mean that they happened when they were referred to the civil or ecclesiastical court, but a long time before.

–Q: And what is the tendency today?

–Archbishop Tomasi: We must keep in mind the tendency in the last years is of diminution of cases of pedophilia in the clergy. It seems to me that this is a sign that the measures taken are effective and that a new culture has entered the Church and the environments close to her, namely, to denounce immediately the cases that emerge either to the civil or the ecclesiastical authority. Of course, the best way is to do everything possible to live our priestly life and service to the Church in the right way.

–Q: Did the UN Commission on Torture just ask the Vatican about abuses or did it also ask other countries?

–Archbishop Tomasi: Yes, questions concerned with the sexual abuse of minors were also posed to other countries by the Commission of the Convention against Torture. I believe there are two observations to be made in this regard. The first is that the attention of the media is concentrated on the Church and they have put the spotlights on her, because it is understood that the personnel of the Church must be of extreme trust and when crimes are committed against minors not only is a crime committed but their is also the break of a trust that should be ensured.

–Q: And the second observation?

–Archbishop Tomasi: These events that happened in the Church must be placed in the context of the global, world situation, because the World Health Organization speaks of more than 40 million cases of pedophilia a year and the vast majority of these cases happen in the family and other categories of persons involved, such as teachers in public schools, professionals of several kinds or institutions, from Boy Scouts, to Blue Helmets, to the English Parliament, as the press reports.

-Q: WHO’s data of close to 40 million cases of pedophilia a year is enormous.

–Archbishop Tomasi: That is why, when there is talk of the Church, a sense of perspective is needed to understand that the problem goes beyond her and that everyone should feel the exigency to protect children: the final objective is their protection, to ensure their healthy and serene growth, so that they can be constructive persons for the society in which they must live.

–Q: What culture is at the root of these events?

–Archbishop Tomasi: It seems to me that at the root of the phenomenon of pedophilia is a a culture based on extreme forms of individualism, which seeks to justify any form of behavior and to make of every desire and wish a human right. Instead, the culture that is founded on the Christian tradition promotes the dignity of the person and his openness to transcendence and supports a concept of liberty that is connected to the responsibility of actions taken.

We have two cultures that move on different binaries. For us, therefore, the question to be posed is how the strength of the Gospel can work today to transform the culture of extreme individualism and to be leaven of life for the healthy development of the society.

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Sergio Mora

Buenos Aires, Argentina Estudios de periodismo en el Istituto Superiore di Comunicazione de Roma y examen superior de italiano para extranjeros en el Instituto Dante Alighieri de Roma. Periodista profesional de la Associazione Stampa Estera en Italia, y publicista de la Orden de periodistas de Italia. Fue corresponsal adjunto del diario español El País de 2000 a 2004, colaborador de los programas en español de la BBC y de Radio Vaticano. Fue director del mensual Expreso Latino, realizó 41 programas en Sky con Babel TV. Actualmente además de ser redactor de ZENIT colabora con diversos medios latinoamericanos.

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