27 Nov 2010

Humanists ask UN to hold Vatican accountable for violating children's rights by shielding abusers & obstructing justice

International Humanist and Ethical Union - March 16, 2010

Vatican Condemned at UN for Child Abuse

Geneva, March 16, 2010 -- The Vatican’s record on child abuse was criticized today at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Highlighting the Vatican’s repeated and ongoing efforts to cover up evidence of child abuse by priests, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) accused the Vatican of violating its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Keith Porteous Wood, who presented IHEU’s statement to the Human Rights Council, said: “Billions of dollars and euros have already been paid out in respect of thousands of victims in the USA and Ireland. News of further abuse has since appeared in Austria, the Netherlands and now Germany – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. How much more evidence of children’s suffering is needed before the UN fulfills its responsibility to hold the Vatican to account?

“The Vatican is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), but has contravened several of its articles, and is over a decade behind in its reporting. It has facilitated repeat offending by shielding child abusers from prosecuting authorities and shifting them to new communities. Major investigations in the USA and Ireland have been obstructed by the Church. All this has led to abusers being allowed to continue offending and escaping justice, while their victims despair -- some even committing suicide.”

The Vatican was first criticized at the UN Human Rights Council by IHEU in September 2009. “When we raised this issue at the UN last year, the Church blamed everyone else, but promised a paltry one paragraph on clerical abuse in its report to the UN,” said Porteous Wood. “That mandatory report, already 12 years overdue and promised last September, has still not been filed with the UN.”

In its statement at the Human Rights Council, the IHEU called on the Vatican to make three major changes in dealing with investigations into priestly child abuse:

  • To bring the territory of Vatican City state, to which it has instructed all abuse accusations are to be sent, under the jurisdiction of the CRC;
  • To open up its files and records to CRC and state investigators; and
  • To instruct all its representatives to cooperate with legal investigating authorities worldwide.

IHEU is the world union of more than 100 Humanist organizations from more than 40 countries. Founded in 1952, IHEU is an international NGO with Special Consultative Status with the United Nations, General Consultative Status at the Council of Europe, Observer Status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and operational relations with UNESCO.


For more information contact Matt Cherry at

The IHEU statement to the UN Human Rights Council is shown below.

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 13th Session (1 to 26 March 2010)

Speaker: IHEU Representative, Keith Porteous Wood: Monday 15 March 2010
Agenda Item 4: Matters requiring the attention of the Council

Child Abuse and the Holy See

Mr President

At the 12th session of the Council we noted contravention by the Holy See of several articles of [the Convention on the Rights of the Child] the CRC, and cited evidence of the part played by the Holy See in the cover up of [the long-running and ubiquitous problem of] child abuse by priests and servants of the Catholic Church.[1] But the distinguished delegate of the Holy See, in exercising their right of reply, conspicuously failed to deny our allegations, disingenuously attempting to point the finger of blame elsewhere.[2] He claimed that their report to the CRC, then being finalised would devote “a paragraph ... to child abuse by catholic clergy”. We note however that still, six months later, that report now 13 years overdue, has still yet to be filed.

But what a discourtesy to [this Council and to] the tens of thousands of child victims to suggest that any single paragraph could explain, far less excuse, decades of abuse in respect of which billions of dollars and euros in compensation have already been paid, and investigations in new countries are regularly being announced, [e.g. in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.]

The claim by the representative of the Holy See that they “were putting their house in order” is not borne out by the facts. [In Ireland, the Papal authorities attempted to obstruct the Murphy Inquiry into the cover up of child abuse by the Dublin diocese,[3] and has refused to cooperate with an inquiry by the Irish Foreign Affairs Committee, refusing to respond to two letters from the Committee to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, inviting him to appear before it.][4]

To protect children and bring perpetrators to justice, we call on the Holy See:

  • to remove its reservation to the CRC to bring the territory of Vatican City state, to which it has instructed all abuse accusations are to be sent, under the jurisdiction of the CRC,
  • to open up its files and records to CRC and state investigators, and
  • to instruct all its representatives to cooperate with legal investigating authorities worldwide, something that they have signally failed to do in Ireland.

Thank you sir.

Note: the words in [brackets] could not be spoken in the two minutes available.

[1] http://www.iheu.org/iheu-calls-vatican-recognize-its-responsibilities-children-and-under-un-convention
[2] http://www.iheu.org/holy-see-responds-iheu-criticism
[3] http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Ahern%20Receives%20Dublin%20Archdiocese%20Report
[4] http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/0216/1224264554852.html

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Foreign Policy - March 16, 2010

The List: The Catholic Church’s Latest Abuse Scandals

FP's guide to the Vatican's spiraling crisis.


A series of explosive child sex abuse scandals has hit Western Europe in recent months, sending the Catholic Church into damage-control mode. While such scandals have become depressingly frequent since major allegations came out in the United States in 2002, the latest charges have been particularly damaging, implicating senior members of the Vatican hierarchy, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, and coming at a time when the church is already losing popularity on its home turf.


The scandal: Serious accusations have rocked the Irish church since the U.S. scandal broke. But it was not until the middle of last year -- when a government report detailing Irish clergy child abuse was released -- that the extent of the problem was entirely clear. The report alleged 2,000 cases of abuse over a 60-year period. A second government investigation, released by the Irish government in November 2009, fanned the flames by revealing the collusion of Irish police in systematically covering up cases of child abuse by Dublin clergymen. For Ireland, this is only the latest part of the clergy abuse saga -- the Associated Press reports that since the mid-1990s there have been nearly 15,000 complaints leveled against the church -- with legal claims topping $1.5 billion.

The church's response: The archbishop of Dublin responded swiftly to the latest report, saying on Nov. 26, "No words of apology will ever be sufficient," and "The report highlights devastating failings of the past." The Irish police commissioner also expressed his regret in the police force's role. The Vatican, however, was less effective. In September 2009, a Vatican official responded to growing criticism by defending the clergy's action, citing statistics that showed only 1.5 to 5 percent of clergy have been involved in cases of child sex abuse -- a leaky argument that acknowledges sexual abuse by up to 20,000 priests worldwide.

This February, the pope finally personally addressed the issue by summoning 24 Irish bishops to the Vatican to discuss the by-then highly publicized scandal. He also vowed to pen a "clear and decisive" letter addressed to Irish Catholic constituents that would outline definitive steps the church would take to protect children from further abuse. Four bishops have resigned in the reports' wake, but others have complained of unfair treatment by the Irish press, pointing out that journalists have focused on the church even though problems of abuse are societywide.


The scandal: In late February, a Dutch radio station and newspaper broke the story of alleged abuse in Dutch Catholic boarding schools in the 1960s and 70s. The last Catholic boarding school may have closed in 1981, but victims have not forgotten their traumatic experiences. Once again, the trickle of a few lone voices surged into a torrent -- nearly 200 allegations surfaced in the weeks following the radio program. Victims told stories of priests who shamed them into thinking they had done something wrong, which accounted for their silence. Even when accusations were leveled, priests tended to brush off evidence.

The church's response: The Dutch church was quick to offer an apology to victims of abuse and on March 9 ordered an investigation into any claims. The Vatican, perhaps learning from its PR mistakes in the case of Ireland, highlighted the timely Dutch response as a demonstration of the church's transparency in dealing with child abuse. The Vatican also credited church officials for speeding up the process by encouraging victims to step forward. Critics have shot back, saying such investigations are "a typical Vatican coverup" and that the church has done little to systematically deal with the problem.


The scandal: In early March, the head of a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg confessed to sexually abusing a child more than 40 years ago, before he was ordained. His offer to resign was immediately accepted. A few days later it was reported that another priest in southeast Austria was suspected of having abused approximately 20 children in his parish. Anonymous accusations of abuse at a boarding school at Mehrerau Abbey have also been confirmed and allegations of abuse within the world-famous Vienna Boys' Choir have also surfaced.

The church's response: On March 11, two Austrian archbishops made international headlines when they separately questioned, in a Catholic magazine and during a television interview, whether the church's tradition of celibacy had increased the likelihood of abuse. They stopped short of blaming celibacy for the Roman Catholic Church's growing record of abuse, saying that if celibacy were the principal cause, pedophilia would not exist elsewhere in society. The next day, the Vatican shot down a discussion of celibacy when the pope stated that the tradition would not fall to "passing cultural fashions."


The scandal: The latest and most salient crisis is now taking place in Germany, where allegations of abuse have surfaced this year for the first time. At least 300 cases of abuse have emerged, and elite Jesuit boarding schools across the country have been accused of mistreating pupils. Eighteen of the 27 German archdioceses are now being investigated for child abuse while the German Justice Ministry says that Vatican secrecy has hampered investigations for the past decade.

Such explosive accusations are a direct attack on Pope Benedict himself, who has been criticized for sending a confidential letter in 2001 to every Roman Catholic bishop, advising them to keep allegations of sexual abuse secret for at least 10 years. The letter went on to say that investigations into abuses would be done internally. The German cases have been particularly dangerous for the pope, who was the bishop of Munich from 1977 to 1981. Already he has been accused of allowing a priest who was a known molester to continue serving. Even the pope's older brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, has been accused of allowing abuses to occur at a school choir he directed from 1964 to 1994.

The church's response: Germany's church leader has apologized for the abuses and stated that the church would institute tough new measures. The archdiocese of Munich moved quickly to defend the pope against the personal accusations, with the second-highest ranked official during Benedict's tenure there claiming full responsibility. Meanwhile, the Vatican has responded defensively, denying the so-called "wall of silence," and accusing the international press of an aggressive campaign to smear the pope -- a tactic that will not play out well with an already-boiling European public that has been looking for him to personally speak out.

Kayvan Farzaneh is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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