A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Vatican responds to UN report on sexual abuse.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published a report strongly criticizing the Vatican for its handling of the sexual-abuse crisis. It hasn't gone over very well. John Allen argued that it might actually hurt the reform movement within the Catholic Church. Austen Ivereigh called the committee a "kangaroo court." (While I don't agree with everything Ivereigh has to say about the report--for example, he claims the Holy See has been a "catalyst" on abuse reform "at least since 2001"--he's catalogued its many mistakes.) Michael Sean Winters declared, "To hell with the UN." Mark Silk criticized the report for treating the Holy See as it would any other state, calling it "worse than idiotic. It's counterproductive."

Apart from that significant error, the report foolishly wades into doctrinal waters, suggesting the Vatican revise its teachings on abortion and contraception. The committee urges the Holy See to provide "family planning, reproductive health, as well as adequate counselling and social support, to prevent unplanned pregnancies." At one point the UN committee asks Rome to remove from Catholic-school textbooks "all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities." At another it complains that the Code of Canon Law refers to children born out of wedlock as "illegitimate." The report says that in canon law instances of sexual abuse ought to be "considered as crimes and not as 'delicts,'" seemingly ignorant of the fact that "delict" means crime. (The committee's work is so sloppy that it doesn't even seem to know where to cut off a quote: That part of the report reads, "Child sexual abuse, when addressed, has been dealt with as 'grave delicts against the moral' through confidential proceedings...")

Even when the committee bumps up against a good idea, it seems uninterested in context. For example, it asks Rome to establish "clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation to law enforcement authorities," but fails to note that the world's law-enforcement authorities are not all made in the image and likeness of North America's and Europe's. That's why some diocese--in Africa, for example--haven't implemented mandatory-reporting rules. Shouldn't a UN committee show some awareness of that?

Some of their confusions could have been cleared up with a few clicks of a mouse, or by speaking to someone who knows something about the inner workings of the church. Apparently that didn't occur to the them.

Today Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi, SJ, responded to the UN report, claiming that its missteps prove that the committee gave "much greater certain NGOs, the prejudices of which against the Catholic Church and the Holy See are well known." Not the most helpful formulation, especially given that some Vatican officials have dismissed the sexual-abuse scandal as a creation of an anti-Catholic press.

Still, the rest of the statement is relatively measured. Lombardi explains that the report fails to highlight several of the Vatican's recent efforts to come to terms with the scandal. It does, in fact, "welcome" some of those changes, including the creation of the Commission for the Protection of Minors and changes to Vatican City State law regarding the abuse of minors, but it has little to say about them. "Few other organizations or institutions, if any, have done as much," Lombardi claims. Maybe, but it isn't as though Rome led the charge. Bishops were shamed into action by victims and sustained media coverage of the abuse they suffered.

Lombardi also laments the committee's comments on church teaching, which "seem to go beyond its powers and to interfere in the very moral and doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church, giving indications involving moral evaluations of contraception, or abortion, or education in families, or the vision of human sexuality, in light of [the committee’s] own ideological vision of sexuality itself." Of course, he's right. And he doesn't even get into the report's errors of fact, like its assertion that because of "a code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication, cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities."

The document is a mess, which is a shame because it contains legitimate criticisms that Rome needs to hear, and it could end up giving aid and comfort to curialists who still believe that the sexual-abuse crisis has been overblown by enemies of the church. 


About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

While I have not followed the reports of UN committees, this gives one great pause about their credibility. I believe it will sour the Vattican and even many moderate and libreral Catholics on other issues that it tackles when it shows such inadequacy about some basic facts and loose parameters of issues that it is somehow apprpriate for such a committee to address.

One commentator held out that this might make it more difficult for the United State to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child; I believe the US and Somalia are the only countries not to have ratified it.   

And I'm concerned  that the far-right Catholic folks are now going to use this to go after all of the NGOs that support the CRC.


Erasmus at the Economist had a good take, and also a blast at this committee:


Concerning Mark Silk's observations, you can excuse and outisder or for that matter and insider to identify the Vatican, the Holy See as having jurisdiction over bishops world wide. Irrespective of the parsing and finer points of eccliesiology, in fact, according to Vatican I,

the pope has fullfull and supreme power of jurisdiction, not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and governance of the Church dispersed throughout the world


So when it comes to how the institutional Church (and yes I do draw a distinction between these two forms of church's), handles cases of abuse, the pope i, in fact, directly in control. To argue otherwise, while technically accurate is not in practice what occurs. To test the case, a bishop cannot ordain a married man to the priesthood without Vatican permission!






I, for one, am not blasting this committee. Sometimes, God calls outisders to lead us. Perhaps the UN is a modern day Cyrus, leading for God, a dysfunctional and wayward church.

I have no way of knowing how accurate were the press reports of the discussions between the UN panel and the two representatives of the Vati an who testified on Rome's behalf. The reports I heard said that those representatives argued that the Vatican could not be held responsible for instances of sexual abuse because such matters were the responsibility of the invidiual bishops.

I very much hope that's not true; if it is, it strikes me as beneath contempt for those Vatican representatives to try to place the blame on others. And if it is true that the responsibility lies with the bishops, and not with the Vatican itself, how many bishops have been removed, or otherwise disciplined, for their permissive actions that made the abuses possible? The answer, I believe, is None; and indeed one of them, Cardinal Law of Boston, found himself actually rewarded when public opinion drove him out of his archdiocese to take up residence in Rome.

Poor old Bishop Morris in Australia was dealt with severely when he appeared to be mildly stepping out of line, mostly on other matters. No wonder there are those who ask whether there may be conflicts between being a good Catholic and being a good Christian.

The timing is unfortunate because it comes at a time when the pope is reaching out in so many productive ways. I know Snap and Bishop's accountability are crying out also for Francis to do more. But they should give him some time also. No question Rome has to do more. But Francis' committes have not completed their reports yet. 

While contraception is really something the church must be called on, one wonders at the UN committe getting into abortion and other issues. Perhaps they are disturbed at Francis getting so many accolades in the area of human rights. Usually the UN has been touted as the champion of people's rights. Especially the poor. 

I think there will be pressure for a more nuanced observation. 

I've read the commentaries by those who criticize the report and it makes me almost sick.  The UN has made a public statement on the behalf of children against a powerful international religious organization  that no one else has had the courage to take to task or to hold accountable.  Did the commission get some details wrong?  Maybe so, as they aren't Catholic insiders.  But a church that still allows men like Law and Mahoney to have positions of honor has no moral high ground on which to stand. 


" one else has had the courage to take to task or to hold accountable."  Have you been living under a rock for the past dozen years? Come on.  And "Did the commission get some details wrong?" Try a lot.  

By trying to dictate church teaching in areas it has absolutely no business, it undermined much of what was valid in the report.


A Andreassi,

Do you mean the comments about reproductive rights?  The UN *does* have business mentioning that, as this is about the welfare of children, girl children included.  Human Rights Watch has also cited the Church as denying women and girls reproductive health care in countries in which they have a lot of political influence.  If you think this doesn't apply to children, then think back to the 9 year old Brazilian girl .....,8599,1883598,00.html

Thanks, agree with your analysis and also your take on Austin Iverneigh (some of his statements are not accurate or even factual).

Found MSW to be way off the mark and Mark Silk also repeats some typical statements that are inaccurate.

Did find that the eventual Vatican response was more measured and balanced than I had hoped for.

By trying to dictate church teaching in areas it has absolutely no business, it undermined much of what was valid in the report.

The Vatican chose and fought to be recognized as an independent state wih the concordant. If the Church wants to be a wordly entity and speak at the UN, it must also be prepared to have its own practices critiqued just like every other nations. 

Every time the UN draws attention to human rights violations in Canada or the United States, both countries are up in arms and have similar defensive reactions. This does not mean, at all, that the UN should cease standing up and speaking for these marginalized voices nor should they cease crticizing policies that are harmful. This is, absoulutely, their role. And all states who are part of the UN agree to this kind of peer analysis. 

Are those criticizing this report going to stand by the Nigerian Muslims who defend the practice of child brides as part of their religion?

Pope Francis has made it clear that he wants to get a lot of decisions removed from Vatican time-servers and handled on the local level. And those of us who are aware of the frustrations of people like bishops who sit on pins and needles waiting for Vatican discasteries to act all cheered the idea. But one issue Holy Mother has left in the lap of the locals is handling abuse charges, and look at what that got us. Now a UN agency is saying, Don't do it that way; take charge.

Of course, if all of the successors of the apostles were minimally competent...

On a much smaller point, yeah, "delict"  means "crime." And "discastery" means "bureau," and if you don't believe it, look into a discastery and what will you see? -- bureaucrats. As good Catholics, we believe that the only language God understands is Latin, but the bureaucrats in Rome would save themselves and us a lot of trouble if they would use a live language that includes easily identifiable words for "crime" and "bureau" and let God hire a translator.

To put this defensive reaction in context. Canada had a similar response when the UN criticcized it for poverty and hunger. BTW, I defended the UN, in that instance as well. Eech country needs to look at how it should improve.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative cabinet fairly erupted in indignation this past week as Canada took a knock from a United Nations envoy for turning a blind eye to the poverty, inequality and, yes, the hunger in our midst.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq denounced UN right-to-food envoy Olivier De Schutter as “patronizing,” “ill-informed” and “academic.” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was no less harsh. “I think this is completely ridiculous,” he said. Instead of giving Canada “political lectures,” the UN should focus on “countries where people are starving,” he suggested.



There are a few things I think are non-disputable   ....

 - literally tens of theousands of people have had their lives deformed by being abused by Catholic priests, and this is  an international phenomena

 - in almost every case that has come to light, the abuse has been systematically covered up by church officials

 - no church official known to have covered up abuse has been punished or fired by the Vatican

- there has been no concrete amd universal plan for change advanced that gives any reason to believe this is going to change

To try to write this off as none of the UN's business, to try to obscure it with appeals to religious liberty, is just wrong.


Just because the UN makes it its business to promote abortion does not mean that everyone else has to fall in step behind them. It's an open question whether abortion is a right, and the UN does not have the right to pass down diktats establishing what is right and wrong.

And to be clear, I don't blame the church for its actions in the above case. The doctrine and its implications are very clear, harsh as it may seem. This is like that old thought experiment about a town where everyone's happiness is somehow dependant on one person being (secretly) tortured endlessly. Just because the suffering of the girl is visible to us and the grave injustice cmmitted against the fetus carries no visible negative consequences does not give us the right to ignore the latter. Even in extreme cases like this.

And in any case, even if this effects children, it has no relevance to the issue of children being sexually assaulted by priests, which was the actual subject of the inquiry.

My above comment was meant as a reply to Crystal Watson. I'm not sure if that's clear.

It bothers me that the UN thinks it can dictate the correct ositions on moral issues, and this bothers me even when it has nothing to do with the Vatican. As if it can decide what moral positions are acceptable to hold on abortion or contraception or anything else. And I am annoyed at liberal Catholics who are happy to see outsiders try to strongarm their church to get something they want.

People here are talking a lot about the importance of criticising the curia on abuse charges, which is fine, but that's really not what this is about. The UN is cynically trying to use this investigation as a vehicle to force the curia to make a number of doctrinal changes that are at best tangentially related.

The UN has long included abortion and contracepton under the umbrella of rights it seeks to promote, but just because they view these as rights doesn't make invalid the opinions and beliefs of those who disagree.

And the argument that these doctrinal changes will make abuse less likely misses the point. As far as I'm concerned-and the curia is concerned-it's simply a fact that abortion is wrong. This instrumental approach to ethics is as misguided as people who argue that societies that don't believe in evolution are less likely to commit genocide. And besides that I think the argument that taking a pro-choice stance will make sexual assault less likely is nonsense.

It really is the UN believing it can diktate moral truths that bothers me so much. I don't want to come off as excessively defensive of the Vatican-which does deserve harsh criticism for its handling of the abuse crisis. Again, this would bother me even if it had nothing to do with the Catholic Church.

Regarding the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child that the Catholic Chruch disavow some of it core beliefs: Committee members woud benefit from a re-reading of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes freedom of religion.

If anyone wished to comment on the report to the US Mission to the UN, here's a link:

It bothers me that the UN thinks it can dictate the correct positions on moral issues

It's not a random dictate on random morals. The Committee is there to monitor complicance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That's their definition of "moral". Of course they judge the actions of the Vatican (or of any other government) by referring to that convention rather than to the local laws. That's their job.

If I understand wikipedia correctly, the Vatican has signed and ratified the convention, so it is bound to it by international law.

Reservations of the Holy See upon ratification:


       "a) [The Holy See] interprets the phrase `Family planning education and services' in article 24.2, to mean only those methods of family planning which it considers morally acceptable, that is, the natural methods of family planning.
       "b) [The Holy See] interprets the articles of the Convention in a way which safeguards the primary and inalienable rights of parents, in particular insofar as these rights concern education (articles 13 and 28), religion (article 14), association with others (article 15) and privacy (article 16).
       "c) [The Holy See declares] that the application of the Convention be compatible in practice with the particular nature of the Vatican City State and of the sources of its objective law (art. 1, Law of 7 June 1929, n. 11) and, in consideration of its limited extent, with its legislation in the matters of citizenship, access and residence."


As they say, this isn't rocket science..........The Roman Catholic Church did next to nothing to stop certain sexual abusing clergy who were preying on the most innocent of our faithful other than to move them from one location to another and put other children and young adults at risk, some of whom became additional victims of the most evil, criminal and life-destroying conduct and behavior that man is capable of on this earth.  This occurred in towns, neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries around the globe and to this day, not a single religious leader, cardinal or bishop, has been held accountable for his failure to stop the physical and psychological carnage that was perpetrated on the victims and their families.


Michael Skiendzielewski

Captain    (Retired)

Philadelphia Police Dept.

Bravo, Michael from Philly.  So good to hear a blunt voice from the trenches.

I have come to expect defensive, whiny, immature complaining from the likes of John Allen, Austen Ivereigh, Michael Sean Winters, and Mark Silk - they're as close to a Catholic Taliban as you'll ever find.  

But really, Grant Gallicho, try to remember you're a journalist, with a supposed commitment to the truth, and exposing corruption among the powerful.  Commonweal should be leading the charge-up Vatican hill with the portraits of survivors as the children they were when they were assaulted emblazened on their chests.

OK, so the UN Committee does not speak clericalese.  And, for sure the UN Committee doesn't appreciate all the nuance of all the pontificating coming out of the Vatican about all the lessons the church has learned just recently about the rape, sodomy and exploitation of children by priest and bishops. Yahda, Yahda Yahda ...

And yes, the UN may be inadequate to the job.  And let's stipulate that it is by no means a perfect arbitor of justice. 

Yet, the UN Committee has it a lot closer to right about clerical sex abuse and exploitation - and its systemic roots in Catholic clerical culture and praxis - than any bloviating Catholic hierarch has ever demonstrated!!!

From my own experience on the SF review board, I have a suspicion that what really rankles the Vatican hierarchs is not the criticism of its doctrine and pastoral practice - something tells me that after 2 millennia the Catholic Church has pretty tough skin over that bone .  Rather what really stings the Vatican is that the two hierarchs sent to Geneva [Tomasi & Sicluna] received a public tongue lashing by a WOMAN [Kristen Sandberg] no less - Oh the horror!  I'm sure that there are many hierarchs who rue the day when they approved having all those nuns teach women even how to read and write.

[Now Cardinal Levada told me that the CDC - read Ratzinger - objected to women serving on diocesan review boards because "lay people, especially women" should never be in a position of exercising "authority" over a cleric.  True, so help me God!]

What's wrong with representatives of the very world body that was instituted  - after the devastation of two world wars which sacrificed over 100 million human deaths and casualties on the altar of war and crimes of genocide - to safeguard human rights and dignity, peace and justice to call the Vatican to account for its crimes against humanity, against mostly defenseless children???  

Give me  a break!  For all you United Nations nitpickers on this blog stream - you know who you are - get a life.  All Catholics should be rejoicing with our brother and sister survivors who have just received a small modicum of justice.  Thank you, Jesus!

I have a suggestion for your reading pleasure and personal edification:  The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.  Would that these words come from the mouths of the hierarchs!  And better still, when will we see Catholic hierarchs adopt these principles of human rights? Until that time, we should all stuff the indignation over the UN's albeit feeble attempts to hold the church to account for its abject moral depravity.  Read it and weep for the sins of the church.


the likes of John Allen, Austen Ivereigh, Michael Sean Winters, and Mark Silk - they're as close to a Catholic Taliban as you'll ever find

This is... a kooky statement? I dunno--I think that John Allen is mealy-mouthed, and that Michael Sean Winters is unreadable. But taliban? And how on earth is someone like Mark Silk, who I think is one of the sharpest observers of American religion, grouped with that cohort? Pretty sure he's in the tribe, anyhow.

In general, I have no quarrel with any part of Grant's comments. But perhaps it is useful to recognize that this specific issue, in the form in which it has arisen, has roots in the veery peculiar entity that Vatican State. It is both a political entity, like other states. The pope has sovereign political power over it. But it is also the center of the Catholic religious community that includes citizens of many other civil states. Again, the pope is the supreme authority in the Catholic Church.

Catholics around the world thus live in two realms, each of which makes claims on their conduct. It's not surprising that there is a long history of political leaders trying to get religious leaders to support the policies and laws they have established. Nor has there been any shortage of attempts by preligious leaders to get civil leaders to provide advantages or immunities for their Catholic subjects.

When the Catholic leaders in question are also citizens of the civil statethese tensions can be more or less managed through constitutions and civil laws. Note though that these tensions have never been wholly eliminated. They are usua;;u managed rather than being definitively resolved. When, however, one of the parties, here the pope, is not a citizen of the state involved, it is no surprise that therre will be some struggle between the civil and religious leaders to prevail. This is a constant version of Gelasius's "two-sword" insight. Who is to preavil, pope or emperor?

In some sense, the U. N. was set up to prevent or defuse serious conflicts betseen civil states. It has no good way of dealing withconflicts between civil states and the pope in his exercise of his spiritual authority. It only knows how to deal with him as a head of Vatican State, a state that has been an active participant in U. N. Conventions, treaties, etc.

For my part, I don't see any clear way to avoid such conflicts between the papacy and civil authorities. When they dio arise, both sides ought to seek a modus vivendi rather than to prevail.

I don't know about the other writers, but Austen Ivereigh is anything but an objective journalist.  He works for Catholic Voices, a PR group connected to Opus Dei and created when B16 visited the Uk in order to publically promote conservative Catholic views  .... ... even before he worked for them, and though he did work for The Tablet, his work was very one sided.

For those who don't read UCANews, I recommend this:

Cracking the Vatican's culture of opacity on clerical crimes

Papal decrees have imposed the strictest secrecy on allegations of child sex abuse by priests

  • Kieran Tapsell, Sydney
  • February 6, 2014


And as far as I am concerned, the distinction between "The Vatican" and "The Holy See" is a legal subtrefuge that tries to create a distinction where there is virtually no difference.

"It's not a random dictate on random morals. The Committee is there to monitor complicance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That's their definition of "moral". Of course they judge the actions of the Vatican (or of any other government) by referring to that convention rather than to the local laws. That's their job."

Fine. Then the Vatican has no reason more reason to take that criticism seriously than they do any other criticsim from outside.

And this also puts the Convention on the Rights of the Child into question. A lot of people mock the United States for being one of only three states that haven't signed it, but if it gives the UN the last word on thorny moral issues where many of their citizens are in disagreement with the UN then of course the US shouldn't sign it. Frankly, if the rules of that convention in any way require support for abortion than the Vatican should withdraw its signature.

And why should pro-lifers support something that blatantly goes against they're principles? Why is it treated as a black mark against them?

"OK, so the UN Committee does not speak clericalese."

A lot of people are saying this. The language that the Vatican documents are written in can be obscure to be sure, but to have to make this excuse for a committee working for an organization as presitgous as the UN, a committee specifically tasked with investgating the Vatican, is just ridiculous. Would the UN send investigators to Iran who didn't speak Farsi. Besides legal document are always difficult to parse.

Warren: How do you work for human rights in the world? You can try flexing your muscles and going to war, like the US has done in Iraq (to bring democracy to the Iraqi people - that was a stated original goal) and Afghanistan (to liberate women from the Taliban oppression), but if you do not like that, what alternative is there to agreeing to some compromise, and then holding people to it via international law?

Read the convention here:

It's not that long. What article do you object to on behalf of the Vatican or of the US? Is it

Article 29

1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

... (d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;


Article 24

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.

2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:

(a) To diminish infant and child mortality;

(b) To ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health care;

(c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution;

(d) To ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;

(e) To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;

(f) To develop preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services.


What the US object to, I think, is

Article 37

States Parties shall ensure that:

(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;

Would you prefer to let countries each follow their own customs without outside interference, or to have international law putting limits on how they treat chidren, up to compromising and having to give up on capital execution of minors in the US, or to have the US rule the world as we have done so convincingly in the past decade to make a better world for Iraqis and Afghans?

As to abortion, the report I think was objecting to the sorry case of the nine-year old girl in Brazil who found herself pregnant with twins as a result of rape and incest, a non-viable pregnancy, who had an abortion, and whose mother and doctor were excommunicated by the local bishop while the father (the girl's father who was also the twins' father)  was not. 


"The UN Isn't Biased Against the Vatican.  It's Biased in Favor of Children."  ...

"While it's true that the report did take a (welcome) wide view of the sex-abuse scandal, the problem, if you want to call it a "problem," is not that it's biased against the church. It's that it's biased in favor of human rights and the well-being of adolescents and children. This is a human rights committee. When Catholic doctrine comes into conflict with human rights, it is the U.N.'s job to prioritize human rights. Since this is children we're talking about here, it's especially important that the U.N. not hold back on their support for human rights to protect the sensitivities of the Vatican."

I don't think moral opposition to abortion conflicts with human rights and I don't think one can really minimize the inappropriateness of the UN Committee urging the Vatican to change its beliefs on this issue.

What is frustrating to people who would really like to be supportive of the UN CRC is that the gratutitous recommendations vis-a-vis abortion undermine the very real,very important, findings re: the Church's inadequate response to the sex abuse crisis.

Talk about a missed opportunity.

I agree with you, Irene.

I don't think the UN is trying to make the Catholic Church change its belief on abortion, but is trying to change the way the Church tries to enforce its belief.  Most (all?) Christian denominations are against abortion but most allow people to do what their consciences tell them.  Also they don't run hospitals or faith-based NGOs that deny women care, as the Catholic Church does.

I think the UN Committee raised very serious issues, including those of contraception and certain difficult pregnancies where the mothers life is at risk, which deserve a serious and collaborative response.  The often dismissive response from the Church is not a good sign of a healthy organisation prepared to seriously dialogue and to consider criticism.  It is not a good way to present the Church as open and honest.  We had a change to respond positively but unfortunately it seems we have blown it.

God Bless

Crystal, allowing people to do what their conscience tells them normally does not extend to taking another person's life -- except in abortion. Our laws have now cloaked this as a "private" decision, but the Catholic Church, rightly, regards it as a matter that cannot be relegated to the purely private sphere because the unborn child is a human being in his or her own right and not merely an appendage of the mother. That child's life is being terminated by a willful intervention, no matter how "private" that may be it has public consequences. The very extraordinary circumstances under which such an action might possibly be justified -- which you allude to above -- are hardly the limit to what is being proposed here. If the same commission were to simultaneously enjoin all countries to stop "abortion on demand" because they want to protect the child in the womb in all but the most unusual cases, their call for the Catholic Church to change its stand might have some more weight. But the assumption that the termination of life in the womb is a private affair and matter of sovereign individual conscience is a philosophical one and it is not being challenged here as far as I can tell. What is being challenged is the right of the Church to uphold its position. 

I agree with Irene too.

Jim McCrea writes; "As far as I am concerned, the distinction between "The Vatican" and "The Holy See" is a legal subterfuge that tries to create a distinction where there is virtually no difference."

Crystal Watson writes: I don't think the UN is trying to make the Catholic Church change its belief on abortion, but it is trying to change the way the Church tries to enforce its belief."

Re McCrea: If you are trying to refeer to my distinction between the Church and the Vatican State, I must object to your calling that distinction a "legal subterfuge."  I am a Catholic, but I am not a citizen of the Vatican State. I am subject to the civil and criminal laws of the US and the penalties they impose. I am not subject to the laws of the Vatican State as such. If those laws repeat Canon Law provisions that are applicable to all Catholice, then I am subject to them , but only because they are part of Canon law. Therre is no "legal subterfuge" here.

Re Watson: The Catholic Church tries to "enforce" its belief about abortion by preaching, exhortation, and, in some cases, through canonical penalties. The UN, and anybody else, is free to criticize both the Church's beliefs and its ways of "enforcing" them. But why should the Church have to have the UN's, or anyone else's approval for its beliefs and practices? Would you make the UN some sort of dictator of what is acceptable religious practice?

Though I vigorously disagree with these two passages that I cite, I'm glad to have the opportunity to emphasize again the importance in such matters of thinking clearly and making approopriate distinctions. Otherwise, there is sheer confusion, if not outright nonsense.


"I don't think the UN is trying to make the Catholic Church change its belief on abortion, but is trying to change the way the Church tries to enforce its belief.  Most (all?) Christian denominations are against abortion but most allow people to do what their consciences tell them."

Free practice requires the right to enforce beliefs. Old Congregationalist churches wouldn't even let people in unless they were extremely sure that the person was saved. If they had any reason to believe you were damned you weren't allowed in, and people weren't even allowed in until a certain age because there was no way to tell if a young child was saved or not.. I don't think any do that now, and I certainly wouldn't want my church doing that, but it would be way out of line for any government or NGO to tell them they couldn't do that.

Thanks, Rita and Irene, for trying to help Crystal to understand this.  But I fear you may be wasting your breath (or ket strokes).  

You guys,

I don't think you inderstood what I meant.  We are talking about 2 things here"

1) the right to believe and to preach and advocate for the idea that abortion is wrong

2) the right to withhold medical care from women, medical care which our pluralistic and democratic society has determined is legal

I *do* think the church has the right to #1 and so foes the UN.

But the church does more than this because it is involved in charity work like with human trafficking, and in relief work like helping AIDS patients in other countries, and in medical care as it runs hospitals.   The church uses the power it has in these venues to force people to adhere to its views, even people who are not Catholic.  When it soes that, it tramples on their rights, and sometime it costs people their lives.  I think it is this area that the UN is addressing. 

If you think the church has the right to do this, try to imagine the Jahovah's Winesses running the only hospital in your town and you needing a blood transfusion.  Would their "religious liberty" trump your right to a legal procedure that could save your life?

PS - and I'm not saying that the church should be forced to offer those procedures it finds wrong, but if it will not offer all the legal medical remedies that a patient has a right to and a need for, I don't the church should be in reproductive health care.

" I'm not saying that the church should be forced to offer those procedures it finds wrong, but if it will not offer all the legal medical remedies that a patient has a right to and a need for, I don't the church should be in reproductive health care.'

Crystal --

Let's say that your nice neighbor is a widow with 6 kids.  She isn't poor, but she definitely needs to get away from them sometimes.  So in your kindness you offer to mind her kids two Saturdays each month.  Do you think it's her right to say demand of you, "But I also need time off on some Sundays.  You owe me that"?  Should she reject your help because you can't or won't do everything she wants?

If your answer is no, why shouldn't the Church offer some health care to some women but not offer all the services that are called "health care"?



You are talking about one person doing a favor for another person - something that person has no actual right to.  But Catholic hospitals are not charities, they are businesses, and every person has a *right* to adequate and complete medical care. 

"Warren: How do you work for human rights in the world? You can try flexing your muscles and going to war, like the US has done in Iraq (to bring democracy to the Iraqi people - that was a stated original goal) and Afghanistan (to liberate women from the Taliban oppression), but if you do not like that, what alternative is there to agreeing to some compromise, and then holding people to it via international law?"

The UN gets its authority from the military strength of some of its member states, and I suppose from its ability to give and withhold aid. There is no authority higher than the UN to hold states accountable to agreements they sign with the UN, so the contracts don't have any force on their own without certain member states enforcing them through military and economic power. I don't think these UN agreements are really an "alternative" to coercion by powerful states at all. In fact, Bush was able to present Saddam as a lawbreaker and a renegade specifically because Saddam had ignored the United Nations, so presenting UN agreementsand strongarm military action as two seperate alternatives for global governance seems to miss the mark. One will often lead to the other, I think.

"Would you prefer to let countries each follow their own customs without outside interference, or to have international law putting limits on how they treat chidren, up to compromising and having to give up on capital execution of minors in the US, or to have the US rule the world as we have done so convincingly in the past decade to make a better world for Iraqis and Afghans?"

I would definitively pick the first option. Protecting human rights serves as too convenient a pretext for stomping all over the rights of autonomy and self-rule.

BD: do you think that there is a difference of consequence between the Holy See and The Vatican as the headquarters of the RCC?

“The Holy See is viewed as analogous to a sovereign state, having a centralized government, called the Roman Curia, with the Cardinal Secretary of State as its chief administrator and various departments essential to administration comparable to ministries. It enters diplomatic relations with states, and has Vatican City as its sovereign territory.

Diplomatically, the Holy See acts and speaks for the whole church. It is also recognized by other subjects of international law as a sovereign entity, headed by the Pope, with which diplomatic relations can be maintained.

Often incorrectly referred to as "the Vatican", the "Holy See" is not the same entity as the "Vatican City State", which came into existence only in 1929 because of the Lateran Treaty; the Holy See, the episcopal see of Rome, dates back to early Christian times. Ambassadors are officially accredited not to the Vatican City State but to "the Holy See", and papal representatives to states and international organizations are recognized as representing the Holy See, not the Vatican City State.”  (

I doubt that 1 in 10,000 Catholics throughout the world understand or care about this almost arcane distinction.  It borders on smoke and mirrors.

I have to agree that, of the 16 pages report, only the part about abortion is being discussed. Nevertheless, let me contribute further to this by copying the three paragraphs where the word "abortion" occurs. Do you all really think that for a Catholic, the paragraphs below are as preposterous as you all seem to intimate, and against your Catholic sense of morals? (That's not what dotC commenters seemed to think 4 years ago, see ... but is it only us who should be free to criticize, not the UN?)


54. The Committee expresses its deepest concern that in the case of a nine-year old girl in Brazil who underwent an emergency life-saving abortion in 2009 after having been raped by her stepfather, an Archbishop of Pernambuco sanctioned the mother of the girl as well as the doctor who performed the abortion, a sanction which was later approved by the head of the Roman Catholic Church’s Congregation of Bishops. 

55. The Committee urges the Holy See to review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls and to amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted. 



57. With reference to its general comments No. 15 (2013) on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, No. 4 (2003) on adolescent health and No.3 (2003) on HIV/AIDS and the rights of the child, the Committee reminds the Holy See of the dangers of early and unwanted pregnancies and clandestine abortion which result notably in high maternal morbidity and mortality in adolescent girls, as well as the particular risk for adolescents girls and boys to be infected with and affected by STDs, including HIV/AIDs. The Committee recommends that the Holy See : 

(a) Assess the serious implications of its position on adolescents’ enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and overcome all the barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information, including on family planning and contraceptives, the dangers of early pregnancy, the prevention of HIV/AIDS and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); 

(b) Place adolescents’ best interests at the centre of all decisions affecting their health and development and of the implementation of policies and interventions that affect the underlying determinants of their health; 

(c) Ensure the right of adolescents to have access to adequate information essential for their health and development and for their ability to participate meaningfully in society. In this respect, the Holy See should ensure that sexual and reproductive health education and prevention of HIV/AIDS is part of the mandatory curriculum of Catholic schools and targeted at adolescent girls and boys, with special attention to preventing early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; 

(d) Guarantee the best interests of pregnant teenagers and ensure that the views of the pregnant adolescent always be heard and respected in the field of reproductive health; 

(e) Actively contribute to the dissemination of information on the harm that early marriage and early pregnancy can cause and ensure that Catholic organizations protect the rights of pregnant children, adolescent mothers and their children and combat discrimination against them; and 

(f) Take measures to raise awareness of and foster responsible parenthood and sexual behaviour, with particular attention to boys and men. 



I realize that many on this blog stream are tintilated by the UN CRC challenging the Catholic Church's teachings and policies on abortion in so dramatic fashion in a public forum.  Given the constant anti-feminine ideological drumbeat coming out of the Vatican for decades, I'm certainly not surprised that  this is a stumbling block to many.

HOWEVER, this is blog stream is sourced in media reports about the church's reaction to being called to account for its horrible record of sexual assault and exploitation of children and the complicity of its hierarchs, and their abject failure to forthrightly address the gaping wounds left by the crimes of priests and bishops.

This discussion is more rightly on the survivors, and their quest for justice and reconciliation.

After closely reading the report, I'm confident that the UN CRC report was trying to contextualize their critique of the Catholic Church's response to the sexual abuse of children by priest by identifying specific elements in Catholic culture and pastoral practice that contributed to [still contribute to] and underwrite this abuse.

Hence, the discussion about the church's teachings surrounding contraception and abortion.  I believe that the UN CRC was trying to identify the radical ideology of the Catholic Church which undergrids its lame and criminal response to the assault on children by priests and bishops.

Don't look for, or expect, the Catholic hierarchy to engage in any honest examination of its dominant hegemonic clerical culture.  If the Catholic hierarchy wont do it, then by default the hierarchy has actually invited institutions like the UN to do the hard work of trying to dismantling its anti-feminine ideology and feudal patriarchal oligarchy.

The Catholic hierarchy better get use to being labelled anti-human rights.  As Bob Dylan once sang:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.


N.B.:  This mornings Washington Post article gives some pretty interesting insights into how attitudes are shifting in and among Catholic populations around the world:


Political conservatives in the US already barely conceal their contempt for the UN.  This dunderheaded report will be taken in those quarters as yet one more example of the drivel that comes out of that collection of diplomatically immune wheel-spinners, time-wasters and useful idiots for the worst people in the world (as conservatives already  view of the UN), and only what should have been expected.  

Not only is it this a missed opportunity in regard to the reform of the church's handling of sexual abuse, it further undermines the UN's already tenuous credibility (in the eyes of political conservatives) in any number of other areas in which the UN operates, including climate change, weapons inspection, disaster relief, etc. etc. etc.


Mr. Jenkins - excellent commentary and analysis.  Yep, appears that we have an institution running headlong into criticism and reacting according to script.

From community organizational theory:

Church as Institution demands *unilateral power* marked as Top Down; unaccountable; power over; subject to object; zero sum.

It demands *consent* using:  threat of force (sin, damnation); controlled or slanted information; habit of apathy; mystery/magic/ritual/custom understood as the *tyranny of experts*

Can you imagine Father why we might not believe you? Can you imagine how some of us hear your charges against the NGOs with some degree of skepticism? Do you grasp the irony for some of us in your trying to make yourselves the victims in this situation? Can you understand that many of us love the "church" and the tradition but feel that it has be co-opted in large part by a clerical establishment that in spite of many saints is marked deeply by dishonesty, corruption, arrogance and crime. Can you see the necessity for complete truth telling and profound repentance?

It looks to me like a sloppy, under-researched report, which is likely to be counter-productive. The paragraph on the Magdalene Laundries, for example, owes more to movies than to any serious examination of the McAleese Report, which provides the only major documentation on them. One factual error is the claim that women gave birth in the Laundries.

Joseph O'Leary - I agree, Reese nails it.  The UN should just paste its logo over Reese's column.

Cardinal O'Malley's take on the report:

It's now the second item on the blog, but you don't have to scroll very far to hit it. The takeaway:

I do not think the commission’s report has been either fair or particularly helpful.

On the other hand, the cardinal doesn't throw out the good parts with the unfair and uhelpful parts.

P.S. Jim P, Considering the right wing's past history with the United Nations, I don't think we have to devote an iota of attention to what they think of this report in particular. We can put them aside with the Illuminati.


James Carroll takes on claims that the Holy See only has control over child abuse that happens within the Vatican City state. 

ON THE QUESTION of how far papal authority extends, the canon law of the Catholic Church could not be clearer: “The vicar of Christ. . . possesses full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.” (Can. 331) Note that canon law does not say, “except in cases of priestly sex abuse of children.” Canon law does not say that priests and bishops are independent contractors. Canon law does not say that what happens in Catholic parishes and dioceses around the world has nothing to do with Rome. In fact, another canon reads, “By virtue of his office, the Roman pontiff not only possesses power over the universal church, but also obtains the primacy of ordinary power over all particular churches and groups of them.” (Can. 333)


How to square that sweeping papal power with the shameless dodge put forward by the Holy See in this era of church disgrace — the claim that, when it comes to protecting children from abuse, the Roman Catholic Church is legally responsible only to safeguard those living in the confines of Vatican City, a tiny city-state that would fit inside New York’s Central Park eight times? Washing the Vatican’s hands of broader responsibility for the staggering transnational accumulation of rapes by priests, and systematic enabling of those rapes by bishops, a Vatican spokesman said, “When individual institutions of national churches are implicated, that does not regard the competence of the Holy See . . . The competence of the Holy See is at the level of the Holy See....”


The pope’s men, including squads of lawyers who deny that offending priests and bishops are “employees” and insist that the pope as a sovereign head of state is immune from lawsuits, are obviously seeking to fend off the threat of multinational litigation that could saddle the Vatican with billions of dollars in liabilities. So far, courts have mostly sided with the Holy See.


But the Vatican strategy has come at a terrible moral cost. Once again, protection of church power and possessions is trumping the profound moral obligation to reckon with the truth of what is still happening in the Catholic Church. And now comes this next lie — the ridiculous assertion that the pope does not exercise full and complete authority over priests and bishops. When parishioners fight the closure of beloved churches, they appeal to Rome. When English-speaking Catholics are directed to say at Mass that Jesus died for “many” instead of for “all,” the fiat comes from Rome. “The competence of the Holy See” is exercised at every level of church life everywhere.


Read more:

You see htis so often when some committe or other is going to conduct a review.  They overreach and thus give the group being reviewed and its supporters grounds for  dismissing the whole of the findings.  In this instance the UN did exactly that.  Had they stuck to the basic question, defense of children, and avoided what were clearly extraneous factors and things that were not going to change, like the Church's position on abortion, they'd have been far more effective and there would be far less of the "this is just a bunch of guys out to hurth the Church" type of response.  As ti si, the Vatican was far less indignant in its response than it could have been, certainly far less than many commentators and defenders have been (I'm looking at you, Michael Sean Winters).  The bottom line is that the Church has a horrible record of performance on this matter.  For decades and decades they made every effort to protect the people who assaulted children, and not a single bishop has been removed from office, even those who have peaded guilty to coverups.  And frankly, outside of a couple of diocese, nobody is completely certain that it is being dealt with fully yet.

Jim McCrea, may I suggest that you re-read the Wikipedia entry on "sovereign states" that you referred to in your comments about the "Holy See." Note the opening paragraph of that entry. It says that a sovereign state has a well defined citizenry as wewll as a well defined trritory. The fact that the Vatican State as it presently exists has come into existence only rather recently changes nothing about the criteeria for being a sovereign state.

@ John Hayes:  Thanks for posting this Boston Globe op-ed from James Carroll.  Only thing is:  You left off his concluding paragraph which is the most operative and salient point at issue:

Pope Francis has appointed a Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the UN urges that it be independently empowered and fully transparent. Francis has generated enormous hope for a new day in the Catholic Church, but on the abuse question he has miles to go. The message from the United Nations is that the world is more appalled by Catholic crimes than defensive church officials are. If the church does not address those crimes, others will.

BD:   “The Vatican” is reported as having said that it "regrets to see in some points of the concluding observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom" and "reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child... according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine".  Abp Tomasi added that the UN could not ask the Church to change its "non-negotiable" moral teachings.

But “the church” is not a signatory of the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child (CRC):  the political entity called the “Holy See” or the “Vatican City State” is.  This political entity, with a defined territory and citizenry, agreed to abide by the features of the Charter.  Those are the moral teachings (if you will) that the UN is accusing The Holy See/Vatican City State of failing to uphold.

Or is it being held that “The Vatican” is the religious organization when that is most beneficial and it is a political entity when that is most beneficial?  The pope as, what:  CEO of the political entity (the Holy See) or Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, appoints bishops at his sole discretion and they are, what:  Regional Managers of the political entity or Successors of the Apostles of the Roman Catholic Church?

It appears that this is a case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too as a matter or particular convenience.

I will admit that the UN committee seemed to use this report to grind a few axes that were better left un-ground, but the righteous indignation of (the Holy See?) (The Roman Catholic Church?) appears to be a feint away from the damning charges about the patent failure to act as one would expect from the top-most leadership of One True Church Established by Christ over many years and pontificates.

Claudia Rosett on the UN report: 

the U.N ... has still not solved its own festering problems of peacekeeper sex abuse, including the rape of minors. Exposing abusers and holding them to account is a great idea. The Vatican has spent years addressing the scandal of its own past handling of such cases. But the U.N. hardly engages in the transparency it is now promoting.

The U.N. releases only generic statistics on violations committed by personnel working under its flag. The U.N. doesn't share with the public such basic information as the names of the accused or the details of what they did to people the U.N. dispatched them to protect. Blue berets accused of sex crimes are simply sent back to their home countries, where in the majority of cases they drop off the radar.


The real issue here is that whatever changes the Vatican and the world's 1.2 billion Catholics might consider, the U.N. is supremely ill-qualified to serve as a guide. ...The Committee on the Rights of the Child consists of 18 panelists advertised as "independent experts," serviced by a secretariat housed in Geneva under the umbrella of the U.N.'s dubiously named Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The committee members are nominated for their posts by the governments of their home countries and elected by an assembly of treaty members that reflects the despot-heavy tilt of the U.N.

From 2009-13 the committee included a member put forward by the government of Syria, where in 2011 the Assad regime began making world headlines for torturing and murdering children. Currently, the committee includes members from such human-rights-challenged countries as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Bahrain and Egypt. This panel issues reports via a process that in practice entails neither uniform standards of judgment nor urgent attention to some of the world's most horrifying abuses of children


Jim Jenkins, i usually try to avoid quoting the whole text of someone else's article. In this case, I omitted the paragraph you quoted and one other - and gave a link so people could read the whole article on the Globe website. 

The other paragraph mentioned that the UN committee

reminded the Holy See that “by ratifying the convention it has committed itself to implementing the convention not only on the territory of the Vatican City state, but also as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority.”

I wonder if that's legally so but, regardless of what the Holy See (the Vatican city state) is legally required to do, I think the Vatican, as the Catholic Church,  needs to require bishops to deal adequately with child abuse and hold them accountable if they don't

in an interview yesterday, Cardinal O'Malley said

he thought the committee’s report would put new pressure on the Vatican to take stronger steps to prevent abuse. He agreed with the UN panel that the church must develop methods of holding bishops accountable when they fail to abide by a “zero tolerance” policy.

In December, O’Malley announced on Francis’ behalf that the pope was creating a new Vatican commission to lead the anti-abuse charge. In the Globe interview, O’Malley said that developing ways of holding bishops’ feet to the fire should be part of its mandate, but he did not indicate how long that would take.


“The first order of business is getting national policies in place, to have some clarity about what the expectations are throughout the world,” he said. “Once the policies are in place, what the [Vatican] might do to intervene where bishops are not following those policies has to be part of a future plan.”



I see the terms "Vatican City" and "Holy See" used interchangeably under this topic.  In my view, they're not exactly the same.  Vatican City is the political entity - an independent nation surrounded by the city of Rome, the rump that remains from what historically was the Papal States.  I assume it is Vatican City that is a signatory to the treaty in question and is affiliated with (a full member of?) the UN.  As a legal matter, I'd think that its compliance with any international laws would apply only to the residents of that political entity - fewer than a thousand people, mostly priests and bishops, I understand.

The Holy See is a 'construct' of the church's internal governance.  To be sure, it's virtually unthinkable to many people that the Holy See could ever exist apart from the political entity known as Vatican City, and there are theological reasons that it is fitting that the Chair of Peter be there, but it's not inconceivable.  Nations come and go.  Most of the land and peoples that were at one time ruled by the pope as a temporal ruler are no longer governed by him.  And the church existed for some time after Pentecost before a local church was planted in Rome and (we believe) Peter went there.  

The political (Vatican City) and the internal governance of the spiritual (the Holy See) are united in the person of the Pope.  The pope as spiritual vicar is critical to our understanding of the church.  But is the pope as temporal ruler critical?  It's not impossible that some day the Holy Father could continue to be the spiritual father of the church, with all that entails, without being the monarch of a political entity.  Should that happen - should Vatican City cease to exist as an independent entity - then whatever UN treaties it signed would no longer be applicable.  But the church would continue to exist in the same way that virtually all other Christian denominations exist.

Canon law is the church's internal code of governance, analogous to the rules or bylaws or a club or association.  It "belongs" to the Holy See, not to Vatican City.  If an independent Vatican City goes away tomorrow, canon law would continue to exist and apply to the church.

James Carroll is an eminent Catholic journalist and historian, but to my knowledge he is not an expert on canon law.  That's not to say that he shouldn't offer an opinion on the meaning of canon law.  Nor does it mean that his 'take' on those canons is wrong.  But unless he cites an authority, I don't think we're obligated to accept his opinion as authoritative.  And arguing from canon law that a UN treaty signed by Vatican City is therefore applicable to Catholics in Dubuque or Durban or Manila seems questionable, to say the least.


Jim Pauwels, initially I thought it was the Vatican City State which had signed the treaty, but Wikipedia says it is the Holy See which is recognized by the UN and signs treaties. 

Since the Holy See is legally capable of ratifying international treaties, and does ratify them, it is invited to participate - on equal footing with States - in the negotiation of most universal International law-making treaties held under the auspices of the United Nations.[22] Being a negotiating party, it is able to make substantive proposals, reject the proposals of other negotiating parties, request a vote, and even vote. The Holy See has participated actively in the negotiation of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the 1997 Terrorist Bombing Convention, and the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, among others.


i haven't gone further than that, so far.

Could not have said it better.

Dear God, they hid the abuse of children.

Everybody should be outraged.

John H - I stand corrected.   This passage from a related Wikipedia article both supports and refutes my view :-)

 Although the Holy See, as distinct from the Vatican City State, does not fulfill the long-established criteria in international law of statehood—having a permanent population, a defined territory, a stable government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states[11]—its possession of full legal personality in international law is shown by the fact that it maintains diplomatic relations with 180[12] states, that it is a member-state[13] in various intergovernmental international organizations, and that it is: "respected by the international community of sovereign States and treated as a subject of international law having the capacity to engage in diplomatic relations and to enter into binding agreements with one, several, or many states under international law that are largely geared to establish and preserving peace in the world."[14]

In short - it's treated as if it were a state because other state actors choose to treat it as if it were a state.

I think it's problematic.  It's not the sort of dual citizenship I've signed up for.


Jim - one more Wikipedia article:

But, I think it's a mistake to get drawn into the legal issues - and that's what disappointed me about what appears to be the standard talking point put out by Fr. Lombardi, Cardinal O'Malley and others - that the Pope's responsibility is limited to what happens with the Vatican city State and, everywhere else, the buck stops with individual bishops.

I don't think that is going to convince many people.

I think they are caught in a trap, in that they don't want to have victims of abuse sue the Pope for his vicarious liability for bishops, and pastors and priests as if he were their employer. From a money standpoint, it's better for the Church to have a diocese go into bankruptcy and have the losses end there. In the two lawsuits I know of in the US in which people tried to bring in the Pope, the Vatican's lawyer argued that bishops have offices, not jobs and that once the Pope appoints a bishop, he has no further control over what the bishop does and there is no employer-employee relationship that would make the Pope (or the Church beyond the diocese) liable. The Vatican lawyer also put forth that Pastors have offices, not jobs and once a bishop appoints a pastor, he has no vicarious liability for what the pastor does. 

That doesn't match up with my impression of the reality of the control the Vatican imposes on bishops and bishops impose on pastors, but the courts in both cases accepted that argument. I suppose that the Vatican lawyers will advise against doing anything that will endanger the protection the Pope now has. 

That's why I was happy to see Cardinal O'Malley talk about holding bishops responsible. I imagine they are going to have some complicated discussions about how to do that without exposing the Pope (and the church as a whole) to claims by abuse victims. The more control that the pope exercises, the more financial risk he takes. 

Apart from the legal issues, I agree with James Carrol that "the Vatican strategy has come at a terrible moral cost"

​I hope we can change that soon, because that is what is important.  


Wow, then the Holy See is a state like Exxon is a person.

"Holy See," by the way, is the site I Google when I want to read a papal document that isn't at hand. Most papal documents are not about government.

that's what disappointed me about what appears to be the standard talking point put out by Fr. Lombardi, Cardinal O'Malley and others - that the Pope's responsibility is limited to what happens with the Vatican city State and, everywhere else, the buck stops with individual bishops.

As a matter of ecclesiology, two false statements would be:

  • "The pope has no responsibility whatever in what goes on in individual dioceses or with individual bishops"
  • "The pope has complete responsibility for what goes on in individual dioceses or with individual bishops"

The truth is more complex.  The church's organization is a communion, and that communion is expressed via the principle of subsidiarity.  Federalism, with which we are familiar in the US, is another, different expression of subsidiarity.  

My view is that this church organization is not dependent on the Holy See being based in Vatican City, and does not depend on legal or diplomatic recognition by other nations. That the church happens also to have these particular characteristics, in my opinion, gives the church some benefits - and as you note, potentially may bring some very real liabilities.  But I don't think it is constitutive of the church that it have this sort of unique quasi-state status.

Btw, I am cynical enough to agree with you that Fr. Lombardi, Cardinal O'Malley et al seek to sheild the church from liability - and that the UN report was motivated in part by a desire to expose the church to liability.  But I don't usually suppose that the UN operates from pristine motives, anymore than Congress or Exxon does.



Found this response in the Dallas Morning News to be very balanced:

CYNTHIA RIGBY, W.C. Brown Professor of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
My initial, gut reaction on this was to say that the UN should have stuck with addressing child abuse and should have avoided commenting on social issues such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and gender roles. After all, it is important that we protect the right of religious institutions to say, teach, uphold, and defend what they believe.

Until I got to thinking, which led me to delve a little deeper. I starting thinking through how it is that we can cut to the core of this heinous human rights violation that went mainly unchecked for decades, and remains yet to be resolved. In order to protect our children from the “worst” of abuses, don’t we have to think more organically about how our “positions” (civil, religious, and otherwise) affect them, the most vulnerable members of our global community? How do the “positions” we hold fail to keep our children safe?

I read through the UN report and found that it actually does not criticize directly the Vatican’s position on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and gender roles. What it does do is insist the church promote such positions in ways that do not fund the abuse of children in any way. Any such abuses, the document rightly insists, are criminal acts that must be condemned by the global society. The report further points out that the Vatican signed, alongside 139 other sovereign entities, the UN’s “Convention on the Rights of the Child” in 1989 (linked at, therefore covenanting to take these matters seriously and to be guided by way of conversation with other signing members of the global community.

As I study this matter I am increasingly impressed by how careful the UN was about NOT criticizing religious convictions as such, but insisting that these religious convictions not be invoked as a justification for overlooking ANY form of child abuse, discrimination, or neglect.

Here are four examples, drawn straight from the report.

“The Committee urges the Holy See to review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls . . .” [Note that the aim here is not to criticize the church’s position on abortion per se, but to highlight the real implications of this position for pregnant children, particularly those who have been raped and/or whose lives are endangered by pregnancy.]

“The Committee is seriously concerned about the negative consequences of the Holy See’s position and practices of denying adolescents’ access to contraception, as well as to sexual and reproductive health and information.” [Note that the concern here is not directly to criticize the church’s position on contraception, but to advocate for the sexual and reproductive health of children.]

“The Committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.” [Note that the concern here is not to counter the church’s position that homosexuality is a sin, but to condemn criminal violence directed against children who are homosexual in orientation and/or children of homosexual parents.]

“The Committee also urges the Holy See to take active measures to remove from Catholic schools textbooks all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities.” [Note that the concern here is not to condemn the church’s teaching that the roles of men and women differ, but to call the church to promote the flourishing of all children, regardless of their sex.]

In my view, the Holy See has too frequently sat back into its “convictions” and ignored the real and concrete ways its positions on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and gender roles have funded the widespread abuse of children. The UN is calling the church not necessarily to change their positions, but to sit up, take responsibility, and address these criminal and moral abuses associated with these positions. I, along with so many others in this world, have great hope that the church is moving in the right direction in these matters under the leadership of Pope Francis.

I would go on to suggest, however, that if the church cannot actively and directly address these abuses of children without changing its “positions” on said social issues, its positions on these issues must be changed.

Jesus took little stock in religious convictions as such, pointing out that the purpose of God’s laws – the purpose of the faith stands we take – is never for their own sake. They are for the purpose of promoting the “abundant life” Jesus wills and promises. Responding to those who accused him of breaking his convictions about the Sabbath to feed and to heal, Jesus stated the truth very directly: “Humanity is made for the Sabbath, not Sabbath for humanity.”

If the lives of our children are being harmed by our religious convictions, these convictions are not of God; they have become idols of our own making.

Jesus stated the truth very directly: “Humanity is made for the Sabbath, not Sabbath for humanity.”

Or did he say just the opposite? I'm weak in Aramaic.

Jim Pauwewls has filled out nicely the distinction I attemppted to draw between the Church as the world -wide community of faithand the Vatican City, a relatively recent creation to bring to conclusion an international political conflict. The basic question I have is:  Can a committee or comission of the United Nations rightly issue an explicit criticism of the practices and policies at work in the community that is Catholicism? If so, I take it that it could also issue explicit criticism of pracitices in Judaism, Buddhism, etc. If it is rightly to do so, why does this committee not have to seek approbation for its criticisms from either the Un General Assembly or its Security Council? The criticism is at bottom a political criticism, perhaps also a legal criticism. At most, it is compaarable to a charge of political or legal malfeasance.

Given the status of contemporary meda coverage, the pope and Fr. Lombardi etc. had no forum in which to respond effectively to these complaints. I'd say: Unfair.

That there is the terrible prob lem of pedophelia and the defective response of so many bishops and priiests is undeniable. But it does not follow that the Church as a whole, including me, my pastor, my bishop, my pope can rightly be hauled into the court of public opinion to asnwer the charge that they should have somehow prevented all these crimes and that they are the ones who are negligent if they do not address them as the UN Committee thinks they should.

Here is a classic example of a rush to judgment on the part of people who easily presune that they occupy the moral high ground just because they are against the sins. Human justice never comes about without careful attention to the kinds of procedural issues and issues of standing, that we take to be hallmarks of the judicial system we Americans cherish.

Bernie Madoff has gotten a fairer shake than the UN Committee is giving to the church!

Bernard D, the UN Committee is responding to a report which the Holy See submitted to it. Each entity that ratified the convention is required to submit a report to the Committee every five years reporting on its progress in carrying out the obligations it undertook when it ratified the Convention - and explaining what it has done in response to the comments the Committee made after it reviewed the prior report.


In this case, the Holy See skipped submitting reports in 2007, 2102, and 2007 and submitted one consolidated report before the 2012 report was due. 

6.​The Holy See submits its second, third and fourth periodic reports due in 1997, 2002, 2007 respectively – including information from 1994 to early 2010 – as a consolidated document to be considered under art. 44 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

As I understand it, that is the document the Committee is commenting on. Its response goes through all of the issues covered by the Convention, not just clergy child abuse.


It can comment on the Catholic Church because the Holy See ratified the Convention. The other groups you mentioned didn't. As the consolidated report says:

 2.​The internal law of the Catholic Church defines the Holy See as the government of the universal Church composed of the Pope and of the institutions which proceed from him (cf. Code of Canon Law (CIC) 361; cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) 48).


4.​The international personality of the Holy See has never been confused with that of the territories over which it has exercised State sovereignty (e.g. the Papal States from 754 AD to 1870 and VCS since 1929). Indeed, following the end of the traditional Papal States in 1870 until the establishment of VCS in 1929, the Holy See continued to act as a subject of international law by concluding concordats and international treaties of States, participating in international conferences, conducting mediation and arbitration missions, and maintaining both active and passive diplomatic relations.

"2007, 2102, and 2007" should have been 1997, 2002, and 2007

John Hayes, I stand corrected. Thak you.


Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment