April 14, 2014, New York – Late on Friday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), representing the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), filed a report with the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) documenting the severity of long-term harms suffered by survivors of sexual violence by Catholic clergy. The UN committee is reviewing the Vatican on its compliance with international prohibitions against torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Convention Against Torture, which the Vatican ratified in 2002. This will be the second time in four months that top Catholic officials have been called before the UN 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. Vatican representatives will appear before and be questioned by the Committee on May 5 and 6, 2014.
“Months ago, Vatican officials submitted a report to the Committee Against Torture that makes no mention whatsoever of the rape, sexual violence, and cover-ups within the church, which carry severe and long-lasting harm,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pam Spees. “But the Committee Against Torture and international human rights law are clear: rape and other forms of sexual violence are recognized as torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and the Vatican has fallen woefully short of its obligation to prevent and protect against these crimes.”
The report details the gravity of long-term harms suffered by survivors of clergy sexual violence, including increased risks of suicide and attempted suicide; mental illness, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and addictive disorders. The report also notes studies and reports showing that survivors suffer physical harms as a result of sexual violence, among them neurological damage and changes in brain function as a result of the traumatic events, as well as increased risk of cancer.
“On the church’s continuing abuse crisis, many Catholic officials talk compassionately in public but act recklessly and callously in private,” said Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP. “But the Vatican can’t have it both ways—they can’t sign international treaties and then break them with impunity, especially by continually endangering innocent children and vulnerable adults, by protecting those who commit and conceal heinous crimes, preserving their own reputations and clerical careers.”
The filing is part of increased efforts by survivors to hold Catholic Church officials accountable and advocate in international human rights bodies for change to church practices that enable sexual violence. This attention has come in the wake of CCR’s filing, in September 2011, a case with the International Criminal Court on behalf of SNAP against the Pope and other high-level Vatican officials for crimes against humanity.
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 obligates 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, or lack thereof, 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 of 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.”
Read the report here.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.