May 23, 2014, Geneva – Today, the United Nations Committee Against Torture found that the widespread sexual violence within the Catholic church amounted to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment prohibited by theUnited Nations Convention Against Torture. The committee issued concluding observations following its questioning of Vatican representatives, earlier in May, regarding the Vatican’s record on preventing, punishing and redressing torture. That hearing was the second time in four months that top Catholic officials were called before the UN to account for the Vatican’s human rights record on addressing the ongoing worldwide crisis of sexual violence within the Catholic Church. Attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) submitted reports to both committees and attended both hearings in Geneva. “The committee called the widespread sexual violence within the Church what it is: torture,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Pam Spees. “This is an important recognition of the gravity of these offenses that have been minimized 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.”
“In advance of the Committee’s questioning, Vatican officials tried to pressure the Committee not to inquire about the widespread sexual violence within the Church, » Spees said. « We are glad to see that the Committee clearly addressed the fact of the widespread sexual violence as within its purview despite that pressure.”
The committee expressed serious concerns about the Vatican’s failure to prevent and punish rape and sexual violence. The committee further found that the Vatican’s obligations reach beyond the Vatican City State to all those acting under the Church’s effective authority and control; and expressed concern about the Vatican’s failures to meet its obligations under the Convention to provide redress, including financial compensation, rehabilitative support, and a guarantee that the crimes will not be repeated. The committee expressed deep concerns regarding church policies and practices such as moving priests, rather than reporting them to civil authorities for investigation and prosecution, failing to properly monitor known perpetrators, refusing to cooperate with national authorities, and lack of accountability for bishops and cardinals who have participated in cover-ups and enabled the crimes.
Said SNAP President Barbara Blaine, “For too long, the Vatican has been able to deny and deflect attention from its role in enabling, perpetuating, and covering-up these serious crimes around the globe. But the increasing attention international human rights bodies are paying to this crisis shows the Vatican’s days of impunity are numbered.”
The Vatican ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in June 2002. The hearing in May was the first time the Committee Against Torture reviewed its compliance with the treaty. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child summoned the Vatican in January 2014 to report on its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obliges it to protect children from sexual violence and safeguard their well-being and dignity. It was the first time the Holy See had been called to account for its actions on these issues before an international body.