In an effort to better implement the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Holy See has begun to draw up its own safe-environment program for children in Vatican City State and to offer human rights courses for its security and medical personnel.
However, the Holy See said signing the convention in 1990 did not render
it responsible for the crimes and violations against children committed
outside of Vatican City State by members of the Catholic Church.
"Given that the convention operates on a territorial basis, the
responsibility of these issues" of abuse by religious in Ireland, for
example, "is under the jurisdiction of Ireland and the Irish government
and Irish laws," the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi,
told journalists Dec. 4.
The spokesman was responding to a question about the Vatican's response
to a U.N. committee that monitors the implementation of the convention
on children's rights.
The committee had requested that the Vatican provide complete details
about every accusation it had ever received of the sexual abuse of
minors by clergy worldwide, and specifically to tell whether it
investigated "complaints of torture and other cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment" of girls in the Magdalene laundries in Ireland,
according to the list of questions, which can be found on the U.N.
Governments that signed the convention and its two optional protocols on
child trafficking and on armed conflict are required to submit a
comprehensive review of how convention regulations are being
implemented, as well as to file progress reports every five years.
The Vatican had been lagging behind in turning in its mandatory reports.
However, after reviewing the Vatican's most recent report, the U.N.
committee published in response a four-page outline of concerns and
requests for additional information and clarifications.
The Vatican responded to the questions and concerns by the November
deadline in the run-up to further review in a meeting between Vatican
delegates and the committee in January 2014.
The Vatican's responses, prepared by the Secretariat of State, are dated
Nov. 25 and were published on the website of the Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Vatican said when it signs international treaties and protocols, it
does so as a way to lend "its moral support for the effective
dissemination of the principles of the conventions."
But more importantly, it noted, the treaties' measures and standards
have always applied only to the juridical and domestic jurisdiction of
the signatory party, that is, the territory of Vatican City State.
"When the Holy See accedes to or ratifies a treaty, it does not do so on
behalf of every Catholic in the world. Each member of the Catholic
Church is subject to the laws of the respective state in which he or she
lives," the Vatican wrote.
Because the Holy See "is obliged to respect the duty of non-intervention
into the domestic affairs of other states concerning alleged crimes
against children committed by persons, including Catholics, living and
working with institutions operating in their respective territories," it
is the individual, not the Vatican, who is responsible for complying
with the laws of the state in which they live, it said.
In addition, it said, the diocesan bishop and the major superior of a
religious order also are obliged to guarantee children are protected, to
respond appropriately to accusations and to work to prevent violence
Some groups, however, have criticized the Vatican for not providing the
requested information about what it knows about abuse committed by
clergy or religious institutions in other countries.
The Vatican said in its reply that, in general, it is "not the practice
of the Holy See to disclose information on the religious discipline of
members of the clergy or religious according to canon law."
Its canonical investigations were done "in confidence," that is,
information is kept confidential, "according to the criteria of due
process, in order to protect the witnesses, the accused and the
integrity of the church process," it said.
Given its recognition that children "must be protected through the
creation of safe environments and public awareness programs," the
Vatican said it was "currently developing a safe environment program for
children" and was looking at best practices in training and materials
already developed by the church in other countries. The Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith has mandated similar guidelines be drawn up
by the world's bishops' conferences.
It said the Vatican City State standards would include: "a written child
protection policy; written procedures (for) responding to allegations
and concerns; policies and practices to prevent harm to children;
training and education for church personnel," as well as support for
victims and perpetrators.
Other concrete measures being looked at include fact sheets on
disclosing abuse, "a model code of behavior for adults," complaint forms
and a checklist for personnel screening, it said.
In addition to having amended a number of criminal laws for Vatican City
in regards to protecting children, the Vatican has begun to offer
courses in human rights, the U.N. system and overviews on conventions
the Holy See is party to as part of its training of Vatican police, the
Swiss Guards and medical personnel working in Vatican City State.