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UNHRC condemns Catholic response to priest abuse scandal

Staff Colmunist

Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014

Updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014 22:02

If you’re an avid watcher of the goings-on at the United Nations Human Rights Council – and who isn’t – you’re probably already aware of the major developments in the past couple of weeks regarding the Catholic Church’s pedophile-priest scandal. In a rather scorching report, the council categorically condemned the Church’s handling of the scandal, suggesting plainly the Holy See “systematically” adopted policies that allowed the widespread and persistent abuse of children under the pastoral care of abusive priests.

The allegations seem like a blast-from-the-past in the Francis era; the new pontiff, with his friendly demeanor, down-to-earth style and economic progressivism has successfully earned the Church good press since Benedict’s resignation last March. Yet while Francis has been the darling of left and right leaning press in the United States and abroad, the report has damning details about the Church’s approach and teachings that go far beyond the reach of the abuse scandal and into core Catholic dogmas, implicating the very architecture of Church belief in a myriad of breaches of U.N. conventions and international law.

The response from the Church has been predictable. In a lengthy and bewildering online rebuttal to one of the specific abuse claims, the abusive labor of young girls at the Magdeline Laundries in Ireland, Bill Donaghue, head of the Catholic league, said “there is a long history of activists who have lied with alacrity about their cause, and this is especially true of those who claim to represent victims, or survivors, of abuse,” suggesting anti-Catholic prejudice to be at the heart of it all.

Still, others see a major conspiracy in the Commission’s findings. “The elites at the U.N. want total population control, and the Vatican is the big block to that,” Professor Anne Hendershott of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio said in a quote to the National Catholic Register. “The Catholic Church is the last thing standing in the way of that.”

The waves of delusion here are difficult to parse, and we might do well to leave them without comment. It is rather more interesting, anyway, to compare the actual suggestions in the U.N. report: chief among the concerns of the report of Vatican doings were suspected violations of the 1979 United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which the Holy See became a party in 1990. The report made several major suggestions on that front, including expressing grave concern over corporal punishment within Catholic institutions, demanding an end to Catholic taboos over adolescent sexuality in favor of education and especially revisiting its position on abortion, which, according to the commission, “places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls,” citing the 2009 excommunication of a 9 year old Brazilian girl for receiving a life-saving abortion who became pregnant after being repeatedly raped by her stepfather.

This is, of course, to leave aside the sundry suggestions of dealing with the abuse scandal itself, including the immediate identification and surrender of all known and suspected child molesters and rapists within the church to jurisdictionally appropriate legal authorities for secular trial; the Church’s current process, instituted by Benedict XVI, has been to centralize abuse complaints for investigation under Canon Law, a process I, myself, and other, better writers have repeatedly argued is both inadequate and immoral. Compare this process with professor Hendershott’s statement in the same Register article mentioned above: “You don’t engage when someone calls you a pedophile protector. There can be no negotiating when someone makes those kinds of false allegations.” Astonishing.

And yet while the Church’s response to these claims and suggestions has been monstrously inadequate and shameful, one cannot help but see the rationale. What the UN Council has exposed is less about the failure of the Church in specific instances of abuse, and more about the Church’s insistence on clinging to a culture in which authority, not respect, is foundational. The many suggestions of the report, which I urge you to read, and to which justice cannot really be done in this space, are about creating a culture in which sexuality is to be understood and not feared, and in which it is less terrifying for an abused child to name his or her abuser.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child requires state-parties act “in the best interests” of the child at all times. How anyone can still believe, after reading this report, that the Church is truly a good steward of children, let alone of morality, is beyond me.


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