By LUKE VARGAS
UNITED NATIONS (TRNS) – The legal team representing thousands of individuals abused by Catholic priests has published a new report in response to comments made by the Vatican to the United Nations last year.
The latest report by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) comes on the heels of an appeal to the International Court of Justice earlier this month to take the Vatican to trial over its alleged complicity in cases of child sexual abuse worldwide.
According to CCR estimates, up to 100,000 individuals have been the victims of sexual violence by clergy between 1981 and 2005.
With the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI now underway, and the selection of a new pontiff in the coming weeks, the issue of criminal behavior by the Catholic clergy is poised to dog the church for years to come.
According to the CCR report, the Vatican overlooked its gravest abuses when it provided a 2011 report assessing its compliance with the U.N.’s Convention of the Rights of the Child human rights treaty.
Contained within the Vatican’s 37 page assessment are only brief references to the ongoing clergy abuse scandal. In outlining its internal process for handling perpetrators of abuse, the Vatican trumpeted its system of canon law, which, “addresses disturbances to the public order of the Church, [and] therefore, briefly treats the subject matter of delicts (e.g. homicide, theft, aggression, and sexual abuse).”
The CCR report lodged today zeroed in on the Vatican’s own handling of disciplinary matters, saying that the church sacrifices the wellbeing of children in order to preserve its institutional reputation.
“This conclusion was perhaps most succinctly expressed by a grand jury in the United States when it observed that Church authorities ‘continued and/or established policies that made the protection of the Church from ‘scandal’ more important than the protection of children from sexual predators.'”
When the Vatican does investigate members of the clergy, it has consistently done so in private hearings closed to the public. The following selection from the 2011 Vatican report presents the church’s argument for maintaining the secrecy of its internal justice system:
Despite citing the protection of witnesses for this privacy, the CCR maintains that the Vatican should follow the lead of many national courts, which allow victims to optionally seek confidentiality in otherwise public trials.
Another prominent element of the Vatican’s report was repeated emphasis of the Church’s national sovereignty and the complicated intersection of canon law and civil law.
In accusing the Vatican of five specific violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child — Articles 3, 6, 34, 37, and 39 — the CCR repeatedly took the Vatican to task over its characterization of its place within the realm of international justice.
“The Holy See inhabits a unique and hybrid space in the world unlike any other country or entity,” the CCR report said. “The Holy See will use the fact of its statehood and associated immunities to shield against efforts to hold it and its high-ranking officials accountable in national courts for their role in forming and implementing policies and practices that have enabled and facilitated acts of rape and sexual violence.”
Through 1) resisting cooperation with local and national law enforcement, 2) the destruction of evidence, 3) the process of shifting embattled priests between parishes, 4) punishing whistleblowers, and 5) blaming the victims of abuse, the CCR concluded that “both within the confines of the Vatican City and beyond in the realm of the universal Church, the Holy See has failed in its obligation under the Convention and OPSC to take all legal, administrative, and other measures to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and violence by clergy.”
Offering specific recommendations to prevent further abuse, the CCR pushes the Vatican to implement background checks on clergy in close contact with children and to make public its ecclesiastical court proceedings.