(Vatican Radio) The United Nations has issued concluding observations on the reviewed
reports of the Holy See and five States , Parties to the Convention on the Rights
of the Child. It follows a hearing at the UN in Geneva attended by a group from Holy
See last month. Heading the Vatican delegation at those discussions was Archbishop
Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva.
He gave his reaction to the report to Vatican Radio.
Q. What is the reaction of the Holy See to these harsh criticisms by the UN contained in this report?
A. The report in the concluding recommendations that the committee of the Convention on the Right of the Child released today point out a rather negative approach to what the Holy See has been doing — and has already achieved — in the area of the protection of children.
The first impression is that the report in some ways is not up to date, not taking into account some of the clear and precise explanations that were given to the committee in the encounter that the delegation of the Holy See had with the committee three or four weeks ago.
Second, I would say that there is a difficulty apparent in understanding the position of the Holy See, that cannot certainly give up certain teachings that are part of their deep convictions — and also an expression of freedom of religion — and these are the values that in the tradition of the Catholic Church sustain the common good of society and therefore cannot be renounced. For example, the committee asked for acceptance of abortion, and this is a contradiction of the principle of life that the convention itself should support, recommending that children be protected before and after birth. If a child is eliminated or killed we can no longer talk about rights for this person.
So there is a need to calmly and in detail analyze the recommendations proposed by the committee and provide an accurate response to the committee itself, so that there will be no misunderstanding on where we stand and the reason why we take certain positions. And I would add that the practical remedies for preventing cases of abuse of children in forms of laws or decisions of Episcopal Conferences, of directives for the formation of seminarians, constitute a package of measures that is very difficult, I think, to find in other institutions or even other states that have done so much specifically for the protection of children.
So, my sense is that we have to continue to refine, to enact provisions that protect children in all their necessities so that they may grow and become productive adults in society and their dignity be constantly respected. And at the same time we have to keep in mind that even though there are so many millions, forty million cases of abuse a year regarding children and unfortunately some cases affect also Church personnel.
We have to keep in mind that we have to continue to combat this tragedy knowing that even a [single] case of abuse of a child is a case too much.
Q. The United Nations had said that the Holy See had responded better than other countries regarding the safeguarding of children. What’s changed now?
A. The Holy See presented its report as a state in this 65th session of the activity of the committee. The reports of Germany, the Holy See, Congo, Portugal, Russian Federation and Yemen were examined. The Holy See presented the concrete measures taken both at the level of the State of Vatican City and of the Church at large, taking into account that priests are not employees of the Pope but they are responsible citizens of the countries where they work and therefore accountable to the judicial system of those countries.
The effort made was to give an objective picture of the remedies undertaken, of the new steps that still are in the making, [such as] the commission announced by the Holy Father for the protection of minors, and without any comparison with other states. We simply say we recognize there has been a small percentage of Church personnel that have committed abuses and these are the steps taken to prevent that such abuses be made again.
Maybe not all the observations in the facts have been adequately taken into account in the conclusions, so that, for example, the principle that the Holy See is accountable directly for the Vatican City State but not for other countries where local jurisdiction [lies] in the state authorities — a responsibility [that] should be implemented, and punish whoever, including priests, may have abused children.
So that’s possibly an explanation but we need time to reflect carefully on the conclusions and recommendations of the committee and to prepare an adequate response, so that the objective may really be pursued.
The Holy See is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and intends to be faithfully carrying out all the elements of this Convention for the protection of children and this is the way toward the future. And I don’t think that there will be fundamental changes in this task ahead.
Listen to Lydia O’Kane’s interview with Archbishop Silvano Tomasi: