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Holy See addresses UN anti-torture committee

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations will lead a delegation in Geneva Tuesday at a second meeting of the UN Committee on the Convention against Torture (CAT) to which the Holy See acceded in 2002. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi led the Holy See’s delegation in a meeting of the Committee Monday to present a report on the implementation of CAT in Vatican City State – a periodic commitment for each of the Convention’s 155 signatory states.

In remarks to the Committee Monday, Archbishop Tomasi reiterated the Holy See’s conviction that the Convention against Torture is “a valid and suitable instrument for fighting against acts that constitute a serious offence against the dignity of the human person” and that “the teaching of the Catholic Church clearly articulates its opposition to acts of violence and torture.”

The Holy See’s report outlined “significant steps and improvements” made to Vatican City State legislation in compliance with the Convention and which further reinforce the Holy See’s commitment to respecting CAT.

The report mentions in particular, the promulgation of Pope Francis’ July 11, 2013 Apostolic Letter “On the Jurisdiction of Judicial Authorities of Vatican City State in Criminal Matters” which incorporates portions of CAT “practically verbatim” and makes specific reference to the “Crime of Torture” (art. 3, Law N. VIII). Other amendments described in that Letter regard the specific nature of crimes committed within or outside the territory of the State, jurisdiction, extradition and terms of sentencing.

Moreover, Archbishop Tomasi noted the importance of the Holy See’s media services in human rights advocacy, disseminating in the major languages to a “truly international audience that makes it arguably one of the most effective moral voices in the world for human rights, including the position against torture and other cruel and inhuman punishments.”

Archbishop Tomasi represented the Holy See at an assembly of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child earlier this year. While that January encounter was expected to focus on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, the final UN report went well beyond a critique of the Catholic Church’s record on abuse. According to Vatican press spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, the UN Committee overstepped its mandate by asking the Church to change its doctrine on contraception, abortion, education in families, and the vision of human sexuality, “in light of (the Committee’s) own ideological vision of sexuality itself.”

In speaking of the upcoming UN Committee on the Convention against Torture last Friday, Fr. Lombardi said he hoped that “a serene and objective dialogue may take place, pertinent to the text of the Conventions and their objectives. Otherwise, the Conventions may be distorted and the Committees risk losing authority and being reduced to tools of ideological pressure rather than a necessary stimulus towards the desired progress in promoting respect for human rights.” He also suggested that to include the sexual abuse of minors in a discussion about torture would, to unbiased observers, appear “deceptive and forced.”

At the UN meeting in Geneva Monday, Archbishop Tomasi suggested assumptions have led to some confusion over the international and juridical status of the “Holy See” and “Vatican City State.”

The Holy See, he noted, “as a member of the international Community, is related but separate and distinct from the territory of Vatican City State, over which it exercises sovereignty.”

Vatican City State was established in 1929, he explained, “to more effectively guarantee the spiritual and moral mission of the Holy See.” The Holy See, he continued, “globally encourages basic principles and authentic human rights recognized in the CAT, while implementing it within the territory of Vatican City State…”

He reiterated that the Holy See’s “authority does not extend to institutions and the persons of the Catholic Church at large” and it cannot be assumed that the Holy See is “directly responsible for the behavior of every priest and of every employee of any Church institution in the world.” Catholics are subject to the laws of the states in which they are citizens or residents.

Archbishop Tomasi talked briefly to Vatican Radio following Monday’s meeting in Geneva:

“The delegation of the Holy See presented its point of view and emphasized first of all that the Convention has been signed and ratified by the Holy See on behalf - and only on behalf - of the Vatican City State. In this way, the implementation of the Convention under the responsibility of the Holy See, applies to the territory of Vatican City State.

Obviously, some people don’t agree with this statement because they feel that the authority of the Holy See extends to the institutions and the persons of the Catholic Church at large. But from a juridical point of view, this is not accurate and there is an important distinction to be kept in mind between a juridical responsibility and a moral, spiritual, pastoral responsibility.

Then, the members of the Committee raised a series of questions that deal with specific cases that happened in different countries of the world for which they would like to have explanations and accurate information. Mostly, (these are) cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of personnel working for the Church and the assumption it seems at work in this situation (is) that the Holy See is directly responsible for the behavior of every priest and of every employee of any Church institution in the world which of course is not the case.

And then, I must underline the fact that the Chairman of the Committee has tried to be very fair, pointing out the good actions and measures - legal and pastoral I would say - undertaken by the Church in the last few years. And at the same time, he also posed some questions that need to be answered.

At the moment we are reflecting and preparing the conclusions to be presented tomorrow, giving as much information as we can so that the objective of this exercise, the protection of people from abusive and humiliating behavior, may be realized. So from this point of view, the Holy See is happy to collaborate with the Committee but at the same time, it will probably not accept that the Committee goes beyond its boundaries into areas that belong to other committees like the Committee of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and at the same time, maintain a civilized climate of dialogue with every member of this Committee.”