Pope Francis will address United Nations leaders on Saturday amid rising tensions between the UN and the Holy See.
The Pope will speak to 29 executive heads of the UN’s specialised agencies, including representatives from institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the UN Population Fund. He is expected to urge them to dedicate themselves anew to the UN’s founding principles.
The speech will follow two days of intense scrutiny of the Holy See in Geneva by the UN Committee on the Convention against Torture. It also comes a few months after the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a scathing report on the Holy See that criticised Church teaching on contraception and abortion.
The Holy See signed the Convention against Torture in 2002 and Archbishop Silvano Tomasi appeared before the UN committee on Monday and Tuesday, presenting the Holy See’s periodic report to members.
During a two-hour grilling, committee members focused on the Church’s record on abuse and called for a permanent investigation system to end a “climate of impunity”. George Tugushi, a committee member from Georgia, said that while Pope Francis’s decision to establish a Vatican commission to combat child abuse was a positive step it was not enough.
During further questioning on Tuesday, committee members suggested that the Church’s opposition to abortion violated the Convention against Torture. Archbishop Tomasi said the Church considered the right to life “non-negotiable”. He cited figures suggesting that in 2005 66 babies were born alive in Britain after failed abortions and left to die. “Such cruel methods of late abortions truly constitute torture, especially through the use of evacuation techniques, where the baby, still alive, is dismembered and than pulled out of the womb in pieces,” he said.
In answer to criticisms of the Church’s record on abuse, Archbishop Tomasi told the committee that between 2004 and 2013 the Vatican had laicised 848 priests while 2,572 were given other penalties, such as removal from active ministry and a ban on working with children.
The UN committee’s final report on the Holy See will be released on May 23 and is expected to be critical of Church teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
Speaking to the National Catholic Register before the grilling, Archbishop Tomasi said: “In recent years, it seems that the committee of the Convention against Torture has permitted the evolution and incorporation of terms and ideas that are not part of the original convention. It is argued that the insertion of these new terms comes from the nature of the convention as a living document that allows the development and inclusion of new forms of ‘torture’ that are in harmony with the ‘spirit of the document’, if not, in fact, literally found therein. As such, an analysis of the concluding observations of this committee reveals the inclusion of issues regarding abortion, contraception, homosexuality and the like, none of which is met with an international consensus.
“Therefore, it would seem reasonable to presume that the committee will continue this same line of thinking and present strong objections to some of the Church’s moral teachings on these behaviours, considering them forms of psychological burden and torture.”
Groups that submitted evidence to the committee include the abuse survivors’ group SNAP, the Centre for Reproductive Rights, the Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment and the Child’s Rights Network. Three Catholic organisations also submitted evidence, including Catholic Voices USA. Ashley McGuire, giving evidence on behalf of Catholic Voices, said it was “surreal” to defend the Catholic Church’s record on torture before the committee.
She said: “It was surreal to have to pack my bag and leave my world behind to fly thousands of miles to sit in a small room and tell a panel of men and women that, no, the Church is not a house of torture.”
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Catholic Herald (9/5/14)
The Catholic Herald comment guidelines
•Do not make personal attacks on writers or fellow commenters – respond only to their arguments.