Thursday, February 6, 2014

Seriously Flawed Spinning Regarding The UN Report To The Holy See On The Rights Of The Child

Kirsten Sandberg, Chairmen of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child talks with Maria Herczog and Benyam Mezmur during the press conference releasing the draft of the UN response to the Holy See.  Finally the men in the Vatican have to answer to some women.  

I just finished reading the UN's Report to the Holy See on The Rights Of The Child.  I read the full report from the perspective of defending the rights of children in all situations, not just clerical abuse.  I came away with a much different take than commenters like Austen Ivereigh, Mark Silk, or Micheal Sean Winters.  I did not approach my reading of the report as if it I had to instantly defend Holy Father Church from another secular attack.  In actuality, I was most edified to see that the report did in fact, deal with rampant gender discrimination in which girl's lives are not so valued as boys lives---at least not beyond the fact girls grow up to become mother's of boys.  I have found it really really fascinating that the men of the Catholic world of commentary have somehow missed all the paragraphs in the report that deal with this issue in favor of taking a few other paragraphs out of context.  On the other hand, it didn't surprise me because I was reveling in the fact that the men of Vatican were answering to the women of the UN and pretty much figured Holy Father's men would be out in full force.

My first really strong disagreement is that many of these commenters, including the Vatican's Archbishop Tomassi,  imply the UN has somehow failed to comprehend how the Church effectively operates and how limited the Pope actually is in terms of responsibility for Church organizations.  If that's true, then why does Section 3 of the Report go into detail as to how the UN Commission saw these very issues:

The Committee is aware of the dual nature of the Holy See’s ratification of the Convention as the Government of the Vatican City State, and also as a sovereign subject of international law having an original, non-derived legal personality independent of any territorial authority or jurisdiction.
While being fully conscious that bishops and major superiors of religious institutes do not act as representatives or delegates of the Roman Pontiff, the Committee nevertheless notes that subordinates in Catholic religious orders are bound by obedience to the Pope in accordance with Canons 331 and 590.  The Committee therefore reminds the Holy See that by ratifying the Convention, it has committed itself to
implementing the Convention not only on the territory of the Vatican City State but also as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under it's authority

The Vatican City States, the bishops, and religious institutes that answer directly to the Pope seems to pretty much define the scope of responsibility this Report attributes to the Pope through the Holy See.  This is not individual diocesan priests or individual nuns or the homeless shelter in the train station in Rome.  This is not to say that there aren't paragraphs which babble beyond this scope, but if one takes into consideration institutions which answer directly to the Pope such as Cor Unum, which oversees Caritas Internationalis and works side by side with the UN, it's a little easier to understand how at times the Report appears to be demanding tasks the Vatican itself would not be capable of doing unless one gets beyond the confines of the Vatican and includes bodies like Caritas Internationalis which might have the ability to do so.

The other objection I have to too much of the male editorializing, is this report does not deal exclusively with clerical sexual abuse, but you would never know that from the commentary.  MSW goes so far as to imply the Report blames the abuse crisis on homosexuality which is either a complete misreading of the report, or an intentional effort to reduce it's credibility in the eyes of people who will never read the report.  What the Report does ask in it's section on discrimination is that the Church work to end discrimination against gay and lesbian children and actively work to decriminalize homosexuality.  It is not asking for a change in Church doctrine, but for the Church to ACT on it's teaching about not discriminating against gays as people, something that is certainly not happening in the African Church and not being remarked on from St Peter's.

The sections that I really appreciated were the ones dealing with women and girls.  I didn't come away with the idea that the Report was seriously asking for changes in Doctrine.  What I did come away with was a notion that the Report was asking the Holy See to deal with the real life, on the ground, consequences of it's teachings.  Consequences such as the 'never under any circumstances abortion' doctrine that condemns very young girls to pregnancies that can kill them. Pregnancies which in almost all circumstances result from rape or incest. As an illustration, the Report brought up the incident in Recife, Brazil where a nine year old was raped by her step father, aborted twins, and her mother, the doctors, and other direct care givers were excommunicated by the Church. The step father was not.  As crazy as it seems, that the Church would not excommunicate the step father, that is the truth of the justice in Canon Law. A man will not be excommunicated for a sexual act capable of creating life, even if that act is rape, even if the resultant pregnancy from the rape kills a nine year old child.  Justice for these acts can only be found in the secular criminal system, not in Catholic doctrine or Canon Law. 

 Unfortunately, it is precisely this same Catholic Doctrine and Canon Law which hamstrings the Church from assisting in creating secular laws which will deal with the real on the ground consequences of Church Doctrine--especially as those doctrines and laws effect the Church itself.  This leads to things like the US bishops fighting tooth and nail against any initiative to extend the Statutes of Limitations in child sexual abuse.  So much for defending the rights of children.

When I finished reading this report I came away with one very strong observation.  It was about time a major secular body called the Church to account for the consequences of it's teachings and actions on powerless children. For all of Pope Francis' soaring eloquence about the importance of children and how precious life is, the Church he leads is both hugely hypocritical and strangely indifferent when it comes to the consequences children endure because of Catholic teachings--especially those little girl children who can never ever become leaders in one of the most gender discriminating institutions on the planet.


  1. "...Church he leads is both hugely hypocritical and strangely indifferent when it comes to the consequences children endure because of Catholic teachings--especially those little girl children who can never ever become leaders in one of the most gender discriminating institutions on the planet."
    I couldn't agree more, Colleen. Male clerical absolutism has been the mechanism of absolute dominion which seeks to frame the mind of all children to conform to ecclesial (male) expectations. The consequence of clerical absolutism applied at the grassroots is traumatic deformation (Religious Paralysis Syndrome, RPS) of children which over-rides their natural instincts and inclination to rightness in authentic earth/ human perspectives/ relationshps. The Church rationale STILL operates with knowledge and with the intention to "form" minds to conform to its will and serving.
    The control includes belief in the absolute infallibility of the institution, particularly in the person of the pope. For the church to be credible, it will in fact have to come down from this high horse and put the pope on a par with the humanness of regular people, including bishops and cardinals. Assigning legal obligation and accountability to complicit infallibilism is a right finding by the court, meaning the Vatican, and the pope, must also be included in the guilt of failures of local bishops. When the pope and cardinals, are truly operational as equals, as "bishops among bishop", each accountable to the law in his jurisdiction, then the Vatican can be believed when it says that the buck stops with the individual bishop in his jurisdiction, and that he must pay the price under the law for his complicity in the unpunished sexual abuse of children.
    Let's hope Pope Francis truly puts in practice this belief. What this also requires is local lay participation in choosing a bishop whose person the people know, and not leave such appointment to an outside authority who may have ulterior motives in choosing whom he wants to lord it over the people to suit his prejudices.

  2. Great comment sylvester. The starting point in reforming the 'indoctrination' would have to be with the authority and infallibility of the Pope. I think people are missing the point that one of the results of bringing the Pope to accountability to secular law is the very fact it would demythologize the papacy. It's pretty obvious the Vatican itself is fully aware of this consequence should the papacy ever actually be called to account.

    I think this is why the Vatican and it's apologists go to great lengths to inform one and all that secular folks can't possibly understand the intricacies of the Holy See, the Vatican City States, and the Papacy as far as it all relates to virtually everything.