Vatican grilled by UN anti-torture panel over abuse

The Vatican has faced intense questioning about child sexual abuse before a United Nations committee that oversees a convention against torture.

On May 5 in Geneva, the Vatican’s handling of the global clerical sex abuse scandal was compared with torture.

If it does fit the definition of torture, any failure to investigate clergy and their superiors could have broader legal implications.

The Catholic Church could be exposed to a new wave of lawsuits, since torture cases in much of the world don’t carry statutes of limitations, legal experts say.

The Vatican’s ambassador to the UN agencies in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, did not dispute the claim that child sexual violence could be considered torture.

But he insisted that the Holy See’s responsibilities under the torture convention only apply inside the Vatican City State, which has a population of only a few hundred people

He told the committee the Catholic Church had “crossed the threshold” in its approach to the issue of abuse.

He said the Church’s internal culture had changed.

“Any serious look around the world at what the Holy See is doing and what local churches are doing shows clearly that there is no climate of impunity, but a total commitment to clean house,” he said.

Archbishop Tomasi said in the 1960s and 1970s there was a tendency to offer “psychological” help to clergy accused of abuse.

“The culture of the time would allow this to happen. This was a mistake because this allowed for other abuse of minors. The culture has changed.”

He told the committee that 848 clerics had been laicised between 2004 and 2013 and lesser sanctions were given to another 2572 in that period.

But David Clohessy, national director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called the number of dismissed priests “meaningless”.

“Parents can’t protect their kids from a number,” he said.

“What parents need are the names and whereabouts of child-molesting clerics.”

Pope Francis has established a commission to look at the issue of sex abuse.

Its first meeting was at the Vatican last week.

The UN committee also reportedly suggested Church teaching on abortion amounts to “psychological torture” of women and should be repealed.


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