U.N. Committee Redefines Vatican Child Abuse as Torture

The U.N. is cracking down – on the Vatican. A U.N. committee said Monday that the numerous cases of sex abuse by priests should be prosecuted and dealt with by the Vatican as cases of torture. 

The committee wanted to know why the Vatican delayed implementing the treaty it had ratified in 2002 from the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The committee also wanted to know why the Vatican has asserted it only has responsibility for the priests within Vatican City and not priests worldwide.

The Vatican's top representative in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, insisted the Vatican was cleaning up its act, saying, "There has been, in several documentable areas, stabilization and even a decline of cases in pedophilia."

Felice Gaer, from the U.N., asked, "I wonder if you could tell us how you insure that the criminal prohibition against torture in Vatican City covers all individuals for whom the Holy See has jurisdiction."

Katherine Gallagher, representing the Center for Constitutional Rights, which helps victims of sex scandals from the Church, noted that if the U.N. said that if the U.N. decides the Vatican’s delay amounted to torture, lawsuits from decades-old incidents would be possible. She asserted that rape can legally constitute a form of torture because the victim has been intimidated, coerced, and rendered powerless. After the hearing, she said:

The torture committee's questions really were about sexual violence and rape, and they made it clear that these acts fall within the definition of torture and the Vatican's obligations under the torture convention. A recognition by the torture committee that this is one of the most significant crimes could really open up a new level of prosecutions and accountability.

Pope Francis has asked for victims’ forgiveness and said he takes personal responsibility for the "evil" of what had transpired. On Saturday,  the Pope's sexual abuse advisory board said "clear and effective" protocols will be implemented to hold bishops and other church authorities accountable if they do not report any abuse or leave children unprotected.

The U.N. committee is expected to issue its final observations and recommendations May 23. In January, a children’s rights committee from the U.N. said the Vatican had been looking out for itself rather than the victims and denied the Vatican’s claim that it was not responsible for priests worldwide.


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