UN Report Means Bad Headlines for the Church

UN slams Vatican for protecting priests over child abuse

Screams the BBC headline today. And it seems the world has forgotten all the progress made over the last 13 years and reverted back to unreservedly attacking Catholicism. The UN has denounced the Vatican for "systematically" adopting policies allowing priests to sexually abuse thousands of children. I have managed to dig up the actual report on the UN website and you can read it for yourself in full here.

I guess the first thing to do is to acknowledge how bad this is. The abuse of even one child is unacceptable as far as I am concerned, and the fact that anyone should suffer abuse at the hands of someone who claims to be a servant of the Church is even more appalling, if that is possible, because of the hypocrisy that is involved, and because of the damage it does to the Church.

I think it is clear to everyone that the abuse of children has, for a long time, been a problem for the whole of our society. It might only be now that this is coming fully to light, but we can definitely see that practically every corner of society has been infected with this disease, not least the BBC themselves. This does not make it any easier to explain or defend what went on in the Church. But just like other institutions, the Church must recognise the problem and put measures in place to make sure that it never happens again.

The important thing to understand is that the sins of the members of the Church do not render the message invalid. Indeed how could it? The Church stands fundamentally opposed to such actions and condemns it as a grave morally evil, a mortal sin. One does not have to be a theologian or canon lawyer to understand how fundamentally at odds with Catholic teaching abuse of anyone is, and corruption of an innocent child worst of all.

It is important to remember that this report follows a hearing in Geneva on January 16th where Italian Archbishop Silvano Tomasi and Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta appeared before the Committee on the Rights of the Child on behalf of the Vatican.

At this hearing, ++Tomasi vowed that the Catholic church today wants to be “an example of best practice” in the fight against child abuse, while +Scicluna insisted that Catholicism now recognises a “non-negotiable principle” of paramount concern for the well-being of children in its approach to wayward clergy.

In general, the contents of that meeting would seem to suggest that the child protection experts who make up the UN panel felt that the Vatican, albeit belatedly, is moving in the right direction.

The actual report may even have been drafted before this meeting however, as John Allen asserts here, as it is vociferous and unrelenting in its criticism of the Vatican, which it seems to fundamentally misunderstand in terms of organisation. Andrew Brown of the Guardian is straight onto this and, commenting on the nature of the organisation states plainly
"there was no Vatican conspiracy. There was no Vatican cover-up."
Brown goes on to describe the reality at the CDF office dealing with these issues:
Since 2001, when Ratzinger demanded that all cases of sexual abuse be sent there for judgment, it [Brown is referring to the CDF here] has processed 3,000 cases, mostly American, from the last fifty years. Ratzinger worked on these himself before becoming pope, and Scicluna has a staff of nine to help him. It's not a great many, but all of the Vatican is understaffed by the standards of organisations outside. That has some relevance for the story which unfolds.
Indeed, it is worth considering that Rome's operating budget is a third of that of the University of Manchester. It doesn't have the endless resources of government bodies or the UN. Luke Coppen, Editor of the Catholic Herald, expressed his disappointed of what he sees as a missed opportunity on Twitter today, stating:
Today's UN report could have greatly strengthened the hand of Catholic reformers fighting against abuse worldwide, instead the committee confused the issue by taking seemingly random potshots at Church teaching. What a missed opportunity.
And this is very well said. We do not need to defend what has happened, for it is indefensible. What we do need to do is to address it and implement measures that make sure it never happens again. So I agree with the report that members of the clergy who "concealed their crimes" should be identified and held accountable. However, I am deeply saddened that the UN have decided to attack core Catholic doctrines regarding the dignity of human life. For example, n's. 54ff advocate abortion. Because abortion is obviously all about children's rites.

The official Vatican response is as follows:
According to the proper procedures forseen for the parties to the Convention, the Holy See takes note of the Concluding Observations on its Reports, which will be submitted to a thorough study and examination, in full respect of the Convention in the different areas presented by the Committee according to international law and practice, as well as taking into consideration the public interactive debate with the Committee, held on 16 January 2014.
The Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the Concluding Observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom. The Holy See reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child, in line with the principles promoted by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine.
And this alludes to the same point as Luke in the second paragraph, and is high-lighted in the Catholic Voices response which takes issue with interference on the core doctrine of human dignity. This article, by Austen Ivereigh pulls no punches describing the report as "ignorant and misguided, peddling myths for which there is no foundation".

I am eager that we learn lessons from all this, lessons that all of society is learning about robust challenge and about standards of behaviour. Abuse thrives in a culture which choses to ignore it in order to protect outward appearances. Best practice involves implementing transparency and a culture which is not afraid to ask difficult questions.

I can't help but feel the problems have come about a result of relativism. Following our faith should be about the quest for personal holiness, this is where we have to start. We should ask questions about questionable behaviour (seems kind of obvious really). The Church has implemented  a zero tolerance policy on abuse in the UK since the Nolan Report back in 2001, indeed, the Church has been a standard bearer for excellence since this started to be understood. Cases are from the 50's, 60's, 70, and some from the 80's, when our understanding of these crimes was not as sophisticated as it is now. Local bishops were left to deal with cases without the complex understanding of the condition. We should not judge past mistakes by modern standards and we must retain the sense that any abuse is utterly at odds with Catholic doctrine. Failure to deal with instances of abuse does not constitute direct cover-up, but is more representative of poor practice, muddle, and confusion.

But like many thousands of others I should imagine, I weep for the hurt that has been caused.

And that's all I have to say about that.

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