Francis apologises for sexual abuse of children by priests and vows tough sanctions for perpetrators
11 April 2014 15:19 by Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
“I feel called to take responsibility for all the evil some priests – large in number, but not in proportion to the total – have committed and to ask forgiveness for the damage they’ve done with the sexual abuse of children,” Pope Francis said.
“The Church is aware of this damage,” and is committed to strengthening child protection programmes and punishing offenders, he told members of the International Catholic Child Bureau during a meeting today at the Vatican.
The remarks appeared to be the Pope’s first apology for the sex abuse scandal, following earlier statements affirming the Vatican’s work investigating and punishing perpetrators, and encouraging bishops to support abuse victims. The Pope also has said the church deserves to be forced to make monetary settlements to victims.
In December, Pope Francis established a Vatican commission to promote improved child protections policies throughout the Church.
Meeting with leaders of the International Catholic Child Bureau, an organisation based in France and dedicated to defending children’s rights, Pope Francis said it was hard to believe “men of the Church” would commit such horrors.
“We don’t want to take a step backward in dealing with this problem and with the sanctions that must be imposed,” the Pope said. “On the contrary, I believe we must be very strong. You don’t play with children’s lives!”
Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of defending children’s right “to grow in a family with a mother and father able to create a healthy environment for their growth and affective maturity,” which includes “maturing in relationship to the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”
Parents have a right to determine the appropriate “moral and religious education” of their children, he said, and should not be subject to school curriculums that are thinly veiled courses of indoctrination into whatever ideology is strongest at the moment.
The pope said he wonders sometimes whether parents are “sending a child to school or to a re-education camp” like those run by dictatorial governments.
Obviously, he said, children need help in responding to the problems and challenges contemporary culture and the media raise. Young people can’t be kept in “glass jars,” but must be given the values that will help them evaluate what cultural trends respect their dignity and freedom and the dignity and freedom of others.
Below is a translation of the Pope’s words, courtesy of Vatican Radio:
I thank you for this meeting. I appreciate your efforts on behalf of children: it is a concrete and current expression of the predilection that the Lord Jesus has for them.
We can say that the BICE was born of the motherhood of the Church. In fact, it originates from Pope Pius XII’s intervention in defence of children in the aftermath of World War II. Since then, this organisation has always been committed to promoting the protection of children’s rights, and to contributing to the 1989 UN Convention. And in this his work it constantly collaborates with the Holy See offices of the in New York, in Strasbourg and especially Geneva .
[moving away from script speech]… I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children. The Church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children…
In our days, it is important to carry out the projects against slave – labour, against the recruitment of child soldiers and all forms of violence against children. On a positive note, we must reaffirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.
At the same time, this implies supporting the right of parents to decide the moral and religious education of their children. And in this regard I would like to express my rejection of any kind of educational experimentation with children. We cannot experiment with children and young people. The horrors of the manipulation of education that we experienced in the great genocidal dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared; they have retained a current relevance under various guises and proposals and, with the pretence of modernity, push children and young people to walk on the dictatorial path of “only one form of thought”.
[moving away from script speech] A week ago a great teacher said to me … “with these education projects I don’t know if we’re sending the kids to school or a re-education camp” …
Working for human rights presupposes the aim of fostering anthropological formation, of being well prepared on the reality of the human person, and knowing how to respond to the problems and challenges posed by contemporary culture and widespread mentality propagated by the mass media.
[moving away from script speech] Obviously this does not mean we should cover them with forms of protection that are superseded today because they belong to a past culture … Not this, this is no good … we should propose the positive values of the human person the new culture…
For you, this means offering your managers and operators continuing formation on the anthropology of the child, because that is where the rights and obligations have their foundation . It is upon this that the formation of educational projects rest.
[moving away from script speech] These projects obviously must progress, mature and accommodate itself to the signs of the times always remember human identity and freedom of conscience …
Thank you again. I wish you a Buon lavoro.
UN Committee Against Torture criticises Vatican handling of sex abuse
Experts reject argument that Vatican only exercises control over city state and is not accountable for priests’ actions worldwide
Lizzy Davies in Rome
theguardian.com, Friday 23 May 2014 15.43 BST
The Vatican has been criticised by the UN Committee Against Torture over the sex abuse scandal
The Vatican has been criticised by the UN Committee Against Torture over its handling of the sex abuse scandal. Photograph: Sylvain Sonnet/Getty Images
The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) has criticised the Vatican’s handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal, urging the Catholic church to do more to punish perpetrators, help victims and place “meaningful sanctions” on clerics who fail to deal properly with credible allegations.
In observations published on Friday following a two-day hearing this month, the panel’s 10 experts rejected the Holy See’s argument that it only exercises control over the tiny Vatican City State and cannot be held accountable for the actions of Catholic priests and bishops throughout the world.
They called on the Holy See to “take effective measures” to monitor individuals under its “effective control” and to “stop and sanction” conduct that would constitute “credible allegations of violations of the [UN] Convention [against Torture]”.
Before the report had even been released, the Vatican issued a statement declaring that it had not been found to be “in violation” of the convention.
But advocates of abuse victims rejected this outright, labelling the report “a historic document” that they said recognised clerical sexual abuse as a form of torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.
“They’re clearly wrong,” said Pam Spees of the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights, regarding the Vatican’s assertion. “This is an important recognition of the gravity of these offences that have been minimised by the church, places responsibility where it belongs – with the hierarchy in the church, not the victims – and could help open new avenues for redress.”
Felice D Gaer, the CAT’s American vice-chair, told the Guardian: “Legal scholars will tell you that when we write about a concern and make a recommendation we are identifying something that is not in conformity with the requirements of the convention. We don’t use the word ‘violation’; others do. But it’s quite clear it’s not in conformity with the requirements of the convention.”
The report was the first issued by the CAT into the Holy See, and comes after another UN panel – the Committee on the Rights of the Child – issued a scathing rebuke to the Vatican in February, calling it out not only on its handling of child sex abuse cases but also on its stances on abortion and homosexuality.
Those findings prompted an angry response from the Vatican, which accused the panel of ideologically motivated interference in church teachings.
The CAT report, while critical of the church’s sex abuse record, praises it for the steps taken, and, crucially, leaves out any mention of reproductive rights, which some campaigners had urged the panel to consider.
John L Allen, long-term Vatican observer and correspondent for the Boston Globe, said the difference between the two reports indicated the CAT had not wanted its criticisms to be vulnerable to similar attacks.
“It’s pretty clear that, the last time around, the Vatican and its allies used the fact that there was a lot of language in that report that wasn’t about sex abuse – it was about abortion, homosexuality and so on, culture wars – to suggest that it was ideologically driven. They also complained that it had not acknowledged any positive steps the church had taken,” he said.
“They styled the whole thing as a sort of political exercise – you know, axe-grinding and so on. It would seem clear to me that the Committee Against Torture did not want its findings to be dismissed in the same way.”
In its report, the CAT panel noted progress made by the church on the clerical sex abuse scandal, for example welcoming Pope Francis’s establishment of a commission for the protection of minors, and his statement in April that the church needed to be “even stronger” in its tackling of the problem.
The UN experts also welcomed the Vatican’s publication for the first time this month of comprehensive statistics on how many Catholic priests had been disciplined following abuse allegations. But they added that the Holy See had not provided data regarding how many abuse allegations had been reported to the civil law enforcement authorities in the relevant countries.
The CAT said it was “concerned” by reports that some church officials “resist the principle of mandatory reporting of [abuse] allegations to civil authorities”, urging the church to prevent “credibly accused” abusers being simply transferred to other parishes and dioceses “for the purposes of avoiding proper investigation and punishment of their crimes.”
Any church official who failed to handle credible allegations “with due diligence” should be punished, it added.
Citing the case of Polish archbishop Josef Wesolowski, a former papal envoy to the Dominican Republic accused of sex abuse, it said the Holy See should “if warranted … ensure such persons are criminally prosecuted or extradited for prosecution by the civil authorities” of the relevant country.
It also said it was “deeply concerned” by reports of victims being unable to obtain adequate redress or compensation for their suffering and asked the Vatican to set up an independent complaints mechanism.
In its statement, the Vatican said: “The Holy See condemns sex abuse as a serious crime and a grave violation of human dignity.” It noted the criticisms within the report and said it would “give serious consideration” to its recommendations.
Second UN panel condemns Vatican’s record on abuse
23 May 2014 13:11 by Hannah Roberts in Rome, Hannah Roberts in Rome
The United Nations has issued a second damning report into the Vatican’s response to the child sex abuse scandal, but paid tribute to recent efforts by Pope Francis to improve the Church’s record on safeguarding.
In a report issued today, the UN Committee against Torture accused the Holy See of failing to report allegations of abuse to authorities, refusing to disclose information for criminal proceedings and transferring clergy to other dioceses, where they were able to molest children again.
But there was some praise for progress made by Pope Francis, in particular the recognition of crimes against minors and the establishment of the Pontifical commission for protection of minors.
The panel said it welcomed Francis’ statement acknowledging the damage done by priests, in which he said: “We will not take one step backwards … on the contrary we must be even stronger.”
The panel’s findings follow a report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in February, which accused the Vatican of “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to abuse thousands of children.
At the 6 May hearing in Geneva on which the report is based, Vatican officials revealed that over the past decade, 848 clergy have been defrocked and 2,572 sanctioned.
According to the UN torture includes any pain or suffering, mental or physical, inflicted by or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official.
The Committee against Torture was “concerned” by reports that the Holy See was still “resisting the principle of mandatory reporting of allegations to civil authorities”, and withholding information.
The panel cited the specific case of the Papal Nuncio to Australia, Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who it said in December cited diplomatic immunity when he refused to disclose archival documents relating to two priests, including one of the country’s most notorious paedophiles.
It also mentioned the late Fr Denis McAlinden, who was known to have abused from the 1950s, was transferred from diocese to diocese for 40 years, and posted to both the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
The UN panel was also troubled by “numerous reports” in which clergy under investigation were transferred to other dioceses where they were able to avoid punishment.
The agency cited several specific cases including that of the priest Fr Joseph Jeyapaul, who was allowed to remain at large in India for seven years despite facing criminal charges that he molested a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota in 2004.
It also referred to Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, a former nuncio to the Dominican Republic accused who is of sexual abuse. The Vatican declined to extradite him to face charges in his native Poland.
The Holy See’s obligations extend to “all officials and other persons acting in an official capacity” in any location, not just Vatican territory, the committee said. Vatican officials had told UN panels that the Holy See jurisdiction in applying UN treaties extends only to the Vatican City State.
The panel recommended that the Vatican should establish an independent complaints system where there was “no hierarchical connection between investigators and perpetrators”.
The agency also said that the victims of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, where thousands of unmarried pregnant women worked, should be given proper redress, including compensation.
The Holy See said that the Committee had recognised Vatican efforts to stem the epidemic of clerical child abuse.
The Geneva-based committee, it said in a statement, “recognises that the Holy See, Catholic dioceses and religious orders have implemented major efforts for the prevention of sexual abuse of minors and other people.”