Testifying before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Vatican representatives acknowledged the horror of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and, under sometimes intense questioning, insisted the Vatican was serious about protecting children.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said the church recognizes the abuse of children as both a crime and sin, and the Vatican has been promoting policies that, “when properly applied, will help eliminate the occurrence of child sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel.” The archbishop spoke in Geneva on Jan. 16 during the committee’s annual session to review reports from states that signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the former sex abuse investigator in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also appeared before the U.N. committee. One of the committee members complained that Vatican procedures “aren’t very transparent and the victims don’t take part” in the proceedings. Bishop Scicluna responded that the Holy See knows “there are things that need to be done differently,” particularly in addressing concerns about whether a local church has covered up cases of alleged abuse.
“States need to take action against the obstruction of justice,” no matter who is involved, he said. “Only the truth will help us move on.”
Committee members asked repeatedly about the total number of accusations made against Catholic clergy around the world and about the results of investigations on every level. Bishop Scicluna said the Vatican has “no statistics on how cases developed. That does not mean it should be this way. It is in the public interest to know the outcomes of the procedures.”
Archbishop Tomasi told the committee that in December Pope Francis approved the establishment of an international commission to promote child protection and prevent abuse. He said Vatican City State recently updated its laws to define and set out penalties for specific crimes against minors, including the sale of children, child prostitution, the military recruitment of children, sexual violence against children and producing or possessing child pornography.
In late November, the Vatican responded in writing to questions from the committee about its last report on compliance with the treaty; much of the Vatican response involved explaining the difference between the Vatican’s direct legal jurisdiction over Vatican City State and its moral and canonical influence over Catholics around the world. “Priests are not functionaries of the Vatican,” Archbishop Tomasi told the committee. “They are citizens of their own state and fall under the jurisdiction of that state.”
Archbishop Tomasi declined to discuss details of the Vatican’s investigation of Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, removed as nuncio to the Dominican Republic in August after he was accused of paying for sex with boys, except to report that it was still underway but would be handled “with the severity it deserves.” Asked if Archbishop Wesolowski would be extradited, Archbishop Tomasi said that as a diplomat, he would be tried at the Vatican under Vatican civil laws.
In the days before the U.N. committee meeting, organizations representing victims of clerical sexual abuse continued to make public criticisms of the Vatican and to argue that it had direct responsibility for handling or mishandling cases of abuse around the globe.
Archbishop Tomasi told Vatican Radio, “The criticisms are easy to make and sometimes have a basis in reality.” At the same time, he said, “the accusation that the Holy See has blocked the carrying out of justice seems to be unfounded.”