1. Skip to content

National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

NSS Director challenges Vatican at UN over failure to tackle child abuse

The Executive Director of the National Secular Society, Keith Porteous Wood, launched a ferocious attack this week [16 March 2010] on the Pope and the Vatican’s record on child abuse at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

Speaking with a directness about the “Holy See” (the Vatican’s identity in diplomatic circles) which is rarely, if ever heard in the chamber of the UNHRC, Keith made the intervention under the auspices of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). He said: “Billions of dollars —and euros — have already been paid out in respect of thousands of victims in the USA and Ireland. News of further abuse has since appeared in Austria, the Netherlands and now Germany – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. How much more evidence of children’s suffering at the hands of the Church will the UN and the international community tolerate before fulfilling their responsibility to those children to hold the Vatican to account?

“The Vatican is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), but has contravened several of its articles, and is more than 10 years behind in its reporting. It has habitually compounded the abuse and facilitated multiple reoffending by moving offenders around and shielding them from prosecuting authorities by imposing the “pontifical secret”. Major investigations in the USA and Ireland have been deliberately and cynically obstructed by the Church at all levels without censure from above. This includes the Vatican’s representative in Ireland, suggesting that he acted under instruction from the highest level in the Church. All this has led to abusers being allowed to continue offending and to escape justice, while their victims despair – some even committing suicide.

“The Church cannot claim it is being victimised. It still places the protection of its reputation, and even more its assets, above the protection of those entrusted to its care. Over 90% of the compensation payments paid by cash-strapped Ireland came from the tax payers, including the abused themselves.

“When we raised this issue at the UN in September 2009, the Church blamed everyone else, but did promise one paltry paragraph on clerical abuse in its report to the UN. Even that mandatory report — already 13 years overdue and promised last September — has still not been filed with the UN.

“Following an instruction from Cardinal Ratzinger when head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all suspicions and accusations of child abuse were to be sent to the Vatican in secret. Furthermore, when acceding to the Convention, the Vatican arbitrarily — and disingenuously — excluded “Vatican City state” from the jurisdiction of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). IHEU calls on the Holy See to:

1. remove its reservation to the CRC to bring the territory of Vatican City state, to which it has instructed all abuse accusations are to be sent, under the jurisdiction of the CRC;

2. open up its files and records to CRC and state investigators; and

3. instruct all its representatives to cooperate with legal investigating authorities worldwide –something that they have signally failed to do, for example, in Ireland.”

The last time Keith challenged the “Holy See” in Geneva (in September 2009), they responded with a rebuttal of such callousness that it caused outrage around the world. This time the politicians from the Vatican have learned their lesson, the nuncio (Archbishop Tomasi), sat stony-faced. Although Keith saw him and his senior advisor in animated discussion over a copy of our text, when the opportunity arose for them to exercise a Right of Reply, they kept their heads down.

Watch the intervention in full

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Also see: The text of our intervention in September 2009, to which Keith referred to, together with our detailed statement published by the UN, the Holy See’s response and the hostile worldwide press reaction.

Published Fri, 19 Mar 2010