At the UN — collegial communications or a pseudo-tribunal?
In Week 03, I skipped over a story in Zenit and in the National Catholic Register about a presentation on January 16th in Geneva, Switzerland, to the UN by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer to the United Nations. The main reason the story did not ‘make the cut’ that week was because it appeared to just be a report, a speech, on a weighty subject but seemingly not being any more than a “communication.” It seemed not to change anything in current practice, and most of the news stories covered here are about substantive changes or early warning alerts. This one originally seemed to be not much more than a gracious, international accommodation on a subject of mutual interest, and discussed between the parties, ‘from time to time.’ But this week the matter ‘exploded’ into front page headlines, revealing an importance far greater than originally thought. So, this week, the entire update is dedicated to the severe dictatorial UN report coming out of what seemed to be an innocuous ‘good faith’ presentation. The last two articles are especially worth reading, to better understand the worldwide basis of attack on Catholic Moral Teaching.
Background: On January 16, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, gave an address to the “UN Committee on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocols.” Click on the link to read the content of that address. The reader will likely not find any surprises in the address, but rather pastoral concern, and a statement of commitment to obligations, as well as acknowledgement that the Catholic Church is among many organizations dealing with the problem of child abuse, made worse when it is propagated by those most trusted. The Zenit story also noted: “Aside from the Holy See, the reports of several countries were presented to the committee, including Russia, Germany, Portugal, Congo and Yemen.”
In part, Abp. Tomasi noted in his address: “Today’s session, is an important occasion to reaffirm the value and the procedures of the convention and to accept any good advice that is given that can be helpful in the protection of children.” There was also a timeliness, related to Pope Francis’ recent approval of the establishment of a Commission for the protection of children and the pastoral care of abuse victims. Abp. Tomasi expressed his assurance that the Holy See will fulfill its international obligations as well as to take the observations and comments of the committee “into due account.” He said that the commission established by Pope Francis “will study the input and observations given by the committee.” Now it sounds like the “input and observations” given, this week, went way beyond anything the Vatican could have anticipated. Moreover, there are accusations that the feedback given, if it can be called feedback, substantially ignores everything that was presented by Abp. Tomasi, even to the extent of rendering a report allegedly prepared even before his presentation, with an agenda outside the expected, aka “with an axe to grind.”
On that same day, Vatican Spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi put out a statement on the reasons for the address to the U.N. committee. The Zenit article is entitled: “Vatican Spokesman Explains Background to U.N. Child Abuse Hearing.” It goes on: “The Holy See is deeply saddened by the scourge of sexual abuse of minors, which harms millions of children throughout the world,” acknowledging that “sadly, certain members of the clergy have been involved in such abuse.” Written in Italian, the note offers a history of the Holy See’s adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as its response to questions posed by the committee. The statement, unfortunately, comes across as somewhat defensive. Zenit states: “Fr. Lombardi explains that the enforcement of laws pertaining to the protection of minors lies with the civil authorities in countries that are party to the Convention, and are responsible for its implementation.” He highlights the “Holy See’s position as a sovereign subject of international law, and the limits of the Holy See’s rights and responsibilities regarding the conduct of priests and religious worldwide.” Fr. Lombardi says “it is not rare to find that the questions posed [by the committee] – above all where they refer to the sexual abuse of minors – seem to presuppose that bishops or religious superiors act as representatives or delegates of the Pope – [though this is] utterly without foundation.” It was also mentioned that there had been reportedly anger that the Holy See would not share the results of its own internal inquiry into sex abuse. The Vatican responded by saying it is “not the practice of the Holy See to disclose information on the religious discipline of members of the clergy or religious, according to canon law,” in order to “protect the witnesses, the accused and the integrity of the Church process.”
Slap-down by UN Committee Reply: Whether there was something in the Archbishop’s address to the committee, or something in the statement of Fr. Lombardi, that provoked a heavy-handed response from the UN, or not, remains a point of potential argument, but readers of the sharp UN reply observe that nothing in that reply evidences that they read or heard the address by Abp. Tomasi. That observation almost implies a response was prepared in advance. In any event, the original news stories that there was such a presentation in Geneva, and that the reasons were explained by Fr. Lombardi, are eclipsed by the follow-on words of the UN reply. As the popular press would have it, the UN made nothing less than a call for the Church to change doctrine and Canon Law; i.e. to accept the immoral practice of the world, instead of the word of God. It would seem to be one more evidence that “conscience rights” will increasingly be unrecognized and disrespected.
Reading even the highlights of the UN report, one can sense what appears to be a deliberate escalation of hostility, especially of the UN toward the Vatican, and one has to wonder, “For what purpose?” And THAT is the reason it is important to follow what is happening very closely. In the best case, it is just a petulant backlash between figureheads of two organizations. At its worst, it is a severe escalation of religious persecution of the Catholic Church. Several writers clearly put forth the observation that it is the more onerous interpretation. It is also an illustration of what happens when an organization loses the moral high ground, being no longer able to lead but instead becoming even more vulnerable to attack. Unfair as the attack may be, there is one level at which Church leadership has only itself to blame. Or, said another way, when the shepherds are struck, the sheep are scattered. But in the heat of battle, we are probably 20-50 years too early for the analysis. So, back to the unfolding story:
Fr. Lombardi: UN Report Shows “Serious” Lack of Understanding of Holy See
Vatican Spokesman Responds to UN Committee Recommendations on Sexual Abuse, Vatican City, Feb. 7, 2014
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, … made several clarifications regarding the reaction of the UN committee on the Rights of the Child report. The following are excerpts from the statement published on Vatican Radio.
- “The UN committee strongly reproached the Vatican for its handling of abuse cases, while not taking many of the implementations to the Convention that the Holy See observed into consideration. It also recommended that the Church change its stance on homosexuality and abortion.”
- The committee’s recent report, he said, “has aroused extensive reaction and response” [and] appears “to present grave limitations.”
- The recommendations “have not taken adequate account of the responses, both written and oral, given by the representatives of the Holy See,” … “Those who have read and heard these answers do not find proportionate reflections of them in the document of the committee, so as to suggest that it was practically already written, or at least already in large part blocked out before the hearing.”
- Fr. Lombardi also called the UN committee’s lack of understanding of the nature of the Holy See, a “serious” matter. “[Are we dealing with] an inability to understand, or an unwillingness to understand? In either case, one is entitled to amazement,” Fr. Lombardi wrote.
- He said a more serious matter was the committee’s interference in moral and doctrinal positions of the Church regarding contraception, abortion and human sexuality. Those interferences, he said, were made in light of “the committee’s own ideological vision of sexuality itself.”
Fr. Lombardi concluded his statement, saying the UN “carries the brunt of the negative consequences in public opinion, for the actions of a committee that calls itself [by the UN name].” Over the next few days opinion within the Church seemed to swing more toward indignation and backlash against the UN reply. An “early responder” to the matter was Fr. Boquet, whose reply was covered by LifeSiteNews and published by Human Life International. While usually giving links, the content is so important in framing out where this confrontation seems to be headed, that we cover most of the article below. See also, received today, Feb. 9th, Brian Fraga’s contribution: “UN Committee to Vatican “Change Church Teaching.” That NC Register link is http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/u.n.-committee-to-vatican-change-church-teaching/ and also see the NC Register link for an article by the founder of the Faith and Reason Institute, Robert Royal, on “The New Rights at the UN are Dead Wrong” http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/the-new-rights-at-the-u.n.-are-dead-wrong/
“UN Committee Statement Requesting Changes in Catholic Moral Teaching is an Egregious Attack on Religious Freedom”
FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, Feb. 6, 2014 –The “Concluding Observations” on the report of the Holy See released Wednesday by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child are a flagrant and egregious attack on the religious freedom of the Catholic Church, her right and obligation to uphold the dignity of the human person and her estimated 1.2 billion members around the world…. “The audacity of the people who wrote this report is simply amazing in dictating to the Catholic Church what her moral teachings should be in order to advance false and dangerous notions of ‘tolerance’ and ‘rights’ so often pushed by those with an anti-life, anti-family agenda,” said Fr. Boquet. “While these are only the thoughts of a few members of one UN committee, we should take seriously any document coming from the United Nations telling a billion people worldwide that their deeply held moral beliefs are inappropriate and need to change. They are using the priest abuse issue to delegitimize the moral teachings of the Church and attack her freedom and right to exercise those beliefs around the world,” he said.
The UN committee’s comments make several requests of the Holy See to amend Canon Law, the law of the Catholic Church, including Canon 1398 calling for latae sententiae excommunication for those who procure an abortion. The report also criticizes the Church’s moral teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. The UN committee also requests that the Holy See identify in Canon Law “circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted,” an impossible task considering the Church’s teaching on the dignity and sacredness of human life from conception until natural death.
“In addition to their attack on the Church’s religious freedom, it’s quite alarming that a UN committee that exists to protect ‘the rights of the child’ would make a statement so supportive of killing children through abortion, really a criminal act against humanity, that it actually asks one of the world’s major religions to change its moral teaching in order to make it happen,” Fr. Boquet said.
“The report also makes an unjust and unsubstantiated charge that the Church’s teachings on homosexual behavior “contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples. This is a very serious charge, made very casually and without evidence,” said Fr. Boquet. “It is the type of calumny usually only seen in the most extreme ideological attacks directed at the Catholic Church, which is why it is so disappointing for an official agency of the United Nations to legitimize this slander by including it in an official document. Indeed, could one not also accuse the United Nations of encouraging violence against Catholics on exactly the same grounds, especially since the accuser does not need to provide evidence of actual incitement to violence in making the charge?”
“The Catholic Church and Catholics around the world deserve a correction of the deeply and thoroughly flawed Concluding Observations document which attacks the freedom of Catholics to express our faith without persecution,” said Fr. Boquet. “This type of language inciting hatred and violence towards Catholics cannot be allowed to stand.”