Conservative Catholic groups expressed outrage Wednesday over a U.N. panel’s scathing report on the Vatican’s sex abuse scandal, saying the oversight group overstepped its authority by calling for the Catholic Church to change some of its fundamental laws on homosexuality, birth control and abortion.
The Holy See referred to some parts of the report as “an attempt to interfere” with church teachings, and other Catholic advocates called the document offensive and an attack on the church.
“It shows a certain ignorance of how the church works,” said Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association. “They don’t just change canon law. The church’s teachings, many of them are thousands of years old and are grounded in deep moral principle. To just fire a shot off the bow and not look at the actual reality of the last 10 years seems totally unfair and undermines the credibility of the report.”
Issued Wednesday by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the report is a response to the Holy See’s January update on how it is handling issues related to decades of child sex abuse by priests in the U.S. and around the world, and what it is doing to help the thousands of victims.
The report advised the Catholic Church to remove all known and suspected child abusers from their posts and report them to authorities, establish rules and procedures for reporting suspected cases of abuse, and change canon law so that abuse is considered a crime and not merely an immoral act.
“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report stated. “The Committee expresses serious concern that in dealing with child victims of different forms of abuse, the Holy See has systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.”
It also urged the church to consider changing its canon laws to recognize same-sex families and permit abortion in certain circumstances, and to reconsider its stance on premarital sex and contraceptives.
The Vatican in 1990 ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the report serves as a critique of the Holy See’s implementation of the treaty.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, acknowledged during a Vatican Radio interview that the church has to continue its efforts to protect children, but said the committee must realize that the Catholic Church could not simply “give up certain teachings that in the tradition of the Catholic Church sustain the common good of society and therefore cannot be renounced.”
For supporters of child sex abuse victims, negative reaction to the report represented another attempt by the Catholic Church to avoid scrutiny for how it handled — or failed to handle — the abuse scandal.
“It’s disingenuous for Catholic officials to trot out the ‘religious freedom’ canard when confronted with uncontroverted evidence of massive wrongdoing,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “The vast bulk of the United Nations panel’s findings have nothing to do with birth control, homosexuality, abortion or doctrine.”
In December, Pope Francis began establishing a panel of advisers to help handle sex abuse cases.
“If the pope is serious about turning the page on this scandal, he should immediately dismiss any bishop who oversaw a diocese in which a priest who abused children was shielded from the civil authorities,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “There can be no place in our church for bishops or priests who put children at risk. From now on, there must be zero tolerance for bishops who shield child abusers.”