In January, for the first time, the Vatican was forced to publicly defend its handling (or, more accurately, its mishandling) of the clergy sexual abuse epidemic that has long pervaded the Catholic Church. As part of an investigation into the Vatican’s adherence to the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Vatican/the Holy See (along with all United Nations member states) ratified in 1990, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child questioned Vatican representatives about both the magnitude of the epidemic and the degree to which it has systematically tolerated and even enabled child sexual abuse (including the rape of children by clergy members) to continue unabated.

Last week, the Committee released a report detailing the results of their investigation. In it, they unequivocally declared that the Vatican has failed to adhere to the terms of the Convention. The Committee’s report focused primarily on two separate facets of one issue: 1) the widespread and long-term epidemic of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic clergy, and 2) the Catholic Church’s institutionally-sanctioned and systematic cover-up of these crimes.

The Committee didn’t mince words in their recommendations, declaring that: 1) the Church has utterly failed in its moral and legal duty to protect the rights and the well-being of children, 2) the Church has consistently prioritized both its own reputation and the rights of the sexual abusers among its ranks above the rights of victimized children, in some cases even going so far as to blame and punish the victims instead of the perpetrators, and 3) the Church has not only turned a blind eye to this epidemic, but has also, in many cases, enabled it to continue.

I can’t overemphasize how refreshing it is to hear these truths spoken clearly and forcefully by the Committee. The Committee speaks with the imprimatur of the United Nations. Their words cannot be easily dismissed. Additionally, this report received widespread coverage in the mainstream media. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Committee’s public declarations have brought more attention and scrutiny to the Church’s actions than anything else in recent memory. The Committee has shone a light on the long-hidden truths buried in the dark and dank corners of the corrupt, dangerous, abusive, and contemptible Catholic Church. These are the Church’s dark secrets, secrets that would cause any decent and ethical person or organization to feel deep shame, to atone, and to make things right. But the Church has demonstrated time and time again that it hasn’t a shred of decency or compassion.

They will undoubtably ignore the Committee’s recommendations.

And that’s the thing: the Committee’s findings are only recommendations. Not dictates, not demands. Recommendations. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Vatican is a signatory to the Convention, the Committee has no legal authority over the Vatican. In effect, then, the Committee’s investigation and recommendations are empty and impotent.

Until the Vatican is finally held to account by an organization that has the legal authority to compel them to begin to fix what they’ve destroyed, corrupted, and shattered, including the lives of so many innocent children, absolutely nothing will change.

Yet I cannot deny that the Committee has done something vitally and crucially important. They’ve bravely shone a light on truths that the Church works so hard to hide. And there is great value in that. To one degree or another, it will raise awareness of the staggering magnitude and horrific nature of this epidemic. And maybe, just maybe, it will bring the Church one step closer to their day of reckoning, the day when they will finally be held to account, the day when they will have to pay for their crimes.

That day cannot come soon enough.

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  • Cliff Smith

    Is the worm starting to turn…. let’s hope so.

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