Vatican Called Before the UN

January 2014
Huffington Post

Since 1988, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has been working to help survivors of clergy sex abuse heal one another and to protect children and vulnerable adults from continuing sexual violence. We have formed a vast network of mutual support among survivors, exposed this global crisis to the public, and repeatedly confronted perpetrators and their protectors, demanding that the Catholic church stop enabling - and start helping to end - this widespread and systemic violence. When we realized we needed to take our work global, we reached out to human rights attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)--a partnership that has brought us all the way to the United Nations in Geneva yesterday to witness the Vatican being called to account for the crisis by an international body for the first time.

In 2011, CCR and SNAP joined together to file a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC), requesting that the ICC prosecutor investigate the Vatican for crimes against humanity and hold accountable high-level Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict, in their supervisory and direct roles. Along with the complaint, we submitted more than 20,000 pages of supporting materials, including reports, policy papers, and evidence of the crimes. In addition to the obvious impact that an ICC investigation would have on efforts to obtain justice and accountability, by framing the sexual violence scandal as an international human rights issue and taking it directly to the tribunal that has handled some of the most horrific human rights abuses in recent history, we made an important statement about the extent of the clergy sex abuse crisis, the gravity of the harm of rape and sexual violence, the depth of the wounds it has left, and where responsibility lies. This is not a problem of a few bad priests, it is not a problem of the past, and it is not a problem confined to the United States. It is a global culture of violence that is concealed and enabled by those at the highest levels of an entity that purports to be a sovereign state.

In the wake of worldwide media coverage of the filing, SNAP heard from thousands of survivors in more than 70 countries, and, in April, we held our first international conference, in Dublin, which drew survivors from twelve countries and five continents. Shortly after our ICC filing, Amnesty International released a report affirming that physical and sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Ireland included "acts that amounted to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment." Though the ICC prosecutor has indicated that the office will not pursue an investigation at this time while leaving open the possibility of doing so in the future, the filing has sparked a worldwide movement urging international human rights bodies to provide accountability--which ultimately led us to the United Nations.

Last February, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) summoned the Vatican to appear and report on its record of protecting - or, rather, failing to protect - children's well-being and dignity. This is the first time the Holy See has been called to account for its actions in the sex abuse crisis before an international body. In March, we filed a report with CCR to the Committee, outlining the Vatican's repeated and ongoing violations of its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and the CRC followed up by posing a list of hard questions to the Vatican. As it has throughout the scandal, the Church refused to accept responsibility for its role in these crimes, submitting a vague response and refusing to provide the concrete data and facts sought by the CRC. But the Church will not be able to be evasive forever. As international bodies continue to press for answers, eventually the Vatican will have to own up to its policies and practices that have facilitated sexual violence throughout the Church.

Yesterday, SNAP survivors and our CCR attorneys were in attendance at the U.N. CRC hearing in Geneva. As Vatican emissaries sat across from U.N. representatives tasked with ensuring that children around the world are protected from harm, they felt the presence of a movement that will continue to keep them in the hot seat. The committee kept track of the questions the Vatican avoided answering and came back to them, refusing to be put off. It was a historic day.

The collaboration between SNAP and CCR has sparked a worldwide effort that will only grow, until this crisis comes to an end. We know that there are children out there at risk, we know that the Vatican is not meeting its obligations to protect them, and now we know that international human rights bodies are paying attention. The Vatican's days of impunity are numbered.


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Last modified 

January 23, 2014