UN subjects Holy See to tough questioning on child abuse
"To date, your procedures are not very transparent," says inquisitor
Vatican officials faced a “grueling” questioning on Church sex-abuse policies on January 16 when they appeared before a UN committee on implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“The Holy See ‘gets it,’” Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta assured committee members, who had aggressively questioned the Vatican’s commitment to ensuring punishment of abusive clergy. “There are certain things that need to be done differently.”
Bishop Scicluna, who for years was the Vatican’s chief prosecutor in sex-abuse cases, joined a Vatican delegation to the UN session that was headed by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent representative at UN headquarters in Geneva. In his prepared statement to the UN committee, Archbishop Tomasi also tacitly acknowledged that the Vatican was late in responding to the sex-abuse scandal. But he said that the Holy See is now fully committed to the prosecution of abusers.
“Egregious crimes of abuse committed against children have rightly been adjudicated and punished by the competent civil authorities in the respective countries,” the archbishop reminded the panel. While emphasizing that the Vatican has no direct control over individual cases in the world’s dioceses, he said that the Holy See “has formulated guidelines to facilitate the work of the local churches to develop effective measures within their jurisdiction and in conformity with canonical legislation.”
“In the end, there is no excuse for any form of violence or exploitation of children,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “Such crimes can never be justified, whether committed in the home, in schools, in community and sports programs, or in religious organizations and structures.”
When UN panel members pressed for more details on the handling of sex-abuse complaints, the Vatican delegation repeatedly pointed out that the Holy See does not directly control the policies of individual dioceses, and said that the cases of individual priests accused of abuse, which come before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are treated confidentially. UN panelists were unsatisfied with those responses. “It seems to date your procedures are not very transparent,” said Kirsten Sandberg, who chaired the UN committee. The UN committee was monitoring the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the Holy See is a signatory. The committee has no enforcement powers, but is expected to issue a report and recommendations.
Speaking to Vatican Radio after the session, Bishop Scicluna admitted that the questioning had been “grueling,” but said that he hoped his delegation’s responses had answered public concerns. He again observed that local governments are responsible for prosecuting criminal activities within their jurisdiction. There is only one case, he said, in which the Vatican might be responsible for the criminal prosecution of a cleric accused of sexual abuse.
Bishop Scicluna was referring to the case of Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who has been accused of molesting boys in the Dominican Republic while serving as apostolic nuncio there. As a citizen of the Vatican, Archbishop Wesolowski could face charges before a Vatican tribunal. When questioned on the case by the UN panel, Archbishop Tomasi said: “It will be judged with the severity that the crimes might demand.” He declined to say whether the Vatican would allow extradition so that the accused prelate could face criminal charges in the Dominican Republic.
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