Vatican Officials Questioned by Second UN Committee About Sexual Violence

May 5,  2014, Geneva – Today, the Vatican was summoned to appear before the United Nations Committee Against Torture to report on its record in preventing, punishing and redressing torture, which necessarily included its record addressing widespread sexual violence within the Catholic Church.  Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and their attorneys from the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) were in attendance.  In April, CCR, representing SNAP, filed a report with the Committee documenting the long-term harms suffered by survivors of sexual violence by Catholic clergy, and filed a supplemental report thereafter focusing primarily on Latin America.  This is the second time in four months that top Catholic officials have been called before the U.N. to account for the Vatican’s human rights record on addressing the ongoing worldwide crisis of sexual violence and cover-ups within the Catholic Church.

“Rape is torture under international law, and for the Vatican to minimize the profound harm caused to so many and claim otherwise is both wrong and cruel. When the Vatican voluntarily ratifies a treaty, it must meet its obligations under that treaty,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Katherine Gallagher.  “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 those days of impunity are clearly numbered.”
The Vatican ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in June 2002.  This is the first time it has had its compliance with its treaty obligations reviewed by the UN Committee Against Torture.  The Vatican was summoned before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child 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.  In February 2014, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed “grave concern that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed…has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and impunity for the perpetrators,” and that “[t]he Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests.”
Said SNAP President Barbara Blaine, “Not only is the UN calling the Vatican to account, they are acknowledging the gravity of the harms at stake—which amount to torture of the most vulnerable individuals and cause deep, long-lasting harm. Pope Francis must humbly acknowledge the breadth of the problem in the church and take concrete steps to end the sexual violence and finally hold accountable not only perpetrators but those who cover up the violence, knowingly  shift priests, and endanger more children.”
International human rights bodies have paid increasing attention to the crisis of sexual violence in the Catholic Church following CCR’s filing, in September 2011, of a case with the International Criminal Court on behalf of SNAP against the former Pope and other high-level Vatican officials for crimes against humanity.  The hearing before the Committee Against Torture will continue tomorrow.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers, as well as those who suffered institutional abuse or those hurt by scout leaders, coaches and teachers. Visit

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

August 21, 2014