At UN, Vatican Continues to Claim Limited Jurisdiction on Sexual Abuse of Children by Priests


Vatican officials appeared Monday before the United Nations Committee on Torture to discuss the sexual abuse of children by priests, claiming the Holy See lacks juridical power to combat the problem on an international basis.

“It should be stressed, particularly in light of much confusion, that the Holy See has no jurisdiction,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi. “The Holy See intends to focus exclusively on the Vatican City state. State authorities are obligated to protect and when necessary to prosecute persons under their jurisdiction.”

This marked the second time that Tomasi claimed in a UN hearing that the Vatican should be considered separately from the Catholic Church, a contention that if honored would dramatically limit the ability of sexual abuse victims to pursue accountability through international law. The argument was first made in January, and was subsequently rejected by a committee focused on children’s rights. It reached a skeptical audience again Monday, with the chief rapporteur of the committee calling the Vatican’s attempt to narrow the scope of inquiry troubling.

Much is at stake. Many countries have statutes of limitations on the prosecution of criminal sexual assault, but not torture. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which advocates on behalf of victims, claimed in a report submitted to the hearing that the Vatican had refused to cooperate with law enforcement and moved predatory priests from country to country to help them avoid prosecution.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, urged the panel to not take the claims seriously. The group has more than 18,000 members in 79 countries and represents those who have had “almost identical experiences when we muster the courage to report our crimes to church officials,” she said in a statement. “By and large we are treated as enemies, discouraged from speaking up, accused of exaggerations, blamed for our own victimization, told we are the first victims to report, and promised that remedies will be taken. Based on decades of evidence, we firmly believe this is the direct result of Vatican practices that permit, excuse, and cover up sexual violence within the clergy.”

The Catholic Church in the United States has spent an estimate of at least $2.2 billion on litigation costs related to sexual abuse, with as many as 100,000 victims in this country alone, according to a presentation made to a Vatican summit in 2012 by Michael Bemi and Pat Neal.

Members of the committee on torture also raised concerns that the Vatican’s opposition to abortion harms women, including psychologically. In response, some advocates for the Vatican are striking back and attempting to shift the story. “They are almost blaming the Catholic Church for unsafe abortions,” Ashley E. McGuire of Catholic Voices USA told the Washington Examiner. The right-wing Media Research Center has released a story targeting John Heiliprin of the Associated Press for not mentioning abortion in his coverage of the Vatican sex abuse hearing.

The UN Committee on Torture will issue its report of findings and recommendations on May 23.

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  • SNAPJudy

    quoted by Tomasi, “Measures undertaken in the last 10 years on the part both of the Holy See and local churches are bringing about a positive result.” —-

    So then, why are cardinals and bishops still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement? Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their power and the institution rather than protecting innocent children. Not one bishop or cardinal has been defrocked, removed or disciplined for their crimes of enabling and empowering child predators to sexual abuse children. Tragically this is why the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day.

    Plus the only reason Tomasi claims the Holy See was getting it’s house in order for the last 10 years is because of the brave victims who speak up and take action to expose the ugly truth so that children will be safe today.

    Vatican church officials have tough questions to answer by well informed members of the UN Committee Against Torture, Tuesday May 6, 9-am to 12 noon EST.

    Judy Jones, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

  • CJ99

    This is a common theme among religious fanatics. Distance themselves from their own abusive actions to avoid blame. then they claim jursidiction when to assert absolute control over followers.

  • P. McCoy

    Anyone who read the story about El Salvador knows that it’s harsh, cruel and torturous punishment of pregnant, poor women is based upon laws set by the teachings of the Vatican. So a grievance about this country should be dove tailed along with this inquiry about the Vatican. This organization which is a United Nations member, whose clergy has diplomatic immunity should be kicked out of the UN and brought before the World Court for its crimes.