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Vatican May Be In Violation Of UN Convention Against Torture

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) light candles during a protest to denounce abuses in Rome, April 25, 2014.

FILE - Members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) light candles during a protest to denounce abuses in Rome, April 25, 2014.

A United Nations monitoring group finds the Holy See may be in violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, largely related to alleged sexual abuse and rape by members of the clergy. In issuing its concluding observations, the Committee Against Torture, composed of 10 independent experts, admonished the Vatican for submitting its report on its implementation of the treaty nine years late.

The Vatican was quick in responding to the U.N. committee’s observations, choosing to highlight the positive aspects of the report. A statement issued by the Vatican notes “the committee did not find the Holy See …in violation of the CAT” - the Convention Against Torture.

But, the committee's vice chair, Felice Gaer, sees the response as a misreading of the concluding observations.

“The committee has identified a wide range of areas in which the State-Party, the Holy See in this case ...is not in conformity with the obligations of the Convention," said Gaer.

The committee disagrees with the Holy See’s contention that its responsibility under the treaty applies only within the tiny Vatican City state, home to fewer than 1,000 people.

The committee says the Holy See cannot absolve itself of the responsibility to prevent violations by clergy and other church officials living elsewhere. The experts accuse the Vatican of failing to prevent and investigate sexual abuse, punish those responsible and compensate victims in many cases involving clergy.

Gaer says the issue of how far down the hierarchical structure responsibility extends has to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

“We are not suggesting that the Holy See is responsible for the actions of every Catholic or every adherent of the faith. But, the cases that we raised specifically in the room do seem to demonstrate that the officials of the Holy See do exercise control over a significant range of conduct that takes place outside the four corners of the Vatican City State," she said.

The committee says the Holy See has the power to compel the perpetrators to stop their abuse and to prevent violations by isolating known perpetrators from potential victims.

It criticizes the Vatican for not compelling bishops to turn over information about sexual abuse to civil authorities.

The experts also complain the Vatican has failed to provide full information regarding sexual abuse. It says the Holy See has transmitted about 3,500 cases of priests having been sanctioned for such acts, but committee members think the number is much larger.

The Vatican condemns the committee's assumption that any sexual abuse is equivalent to torture as defined under the Convention. It considers this position “fundamentally flawed, misleading, and ultimately counter-productive.”

The committee agrees that not every case of sexual abuse or rape qualifies as torture. But, it adds if a state knows about such crimes and fails to act to prevent them, then this can be considered a violation under international law.

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