U.N. Panel on Torture Presses Vatican Envoy on Abuse
GENEVA — The Vatican faced sharp questioning by a United Nations panel on Monday about whether it failed to abide by an international treaty against torture in its response to the sexual abuse of children by priests.
In the hearing, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva, immediately found himself at odds with members of the panel, the Committee Against Torture, over the Holy See’s view that it is responsible for applying the treaty only to the few hundred inhabitants of the Vatican City state.
Another United Nations panel, on the rights of children, rejected that argument in February, saying that the Vatican’s responsibility for carrying out human rights treaties extended to every person and institution under the Roman Catholic Church’s authority around the world. The children’s rights committee accused the church of putting its reputation and interests ahead of those of children.
If the Committee Against Torture reaches a similar conclusion, its report could undermine one of the main obstacles to holding the church accountable for clerical sexual abuse, victims’ advocates say.
Felice D. Gaer, the vice chairwoman of the committee, said the convention against torture was signed by the Holy See, which represents more than just the Vatican City state. Never before, she said, had a party to the convention tried to limit its application to just one part of itself.
What the committee wanted, Ms. Gaer told the archbishop, “is simply that you show to us that as a party to the convention, you have a system in place to prohibit torture and ill treatment as defined by the convention, when it is perpetrated or acquiesced to by anyone under the effective control of the officials of the Holy See and the institutions that operate in the Vatican City state.”