A U.N. committee begins meeting Monday in Geneva to examine whether the Vatican’s record on child protection violates the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which it ratified in 2002. The Vatican argues its responsibility for enforcing the U.N. treaty against torture only applies within the confines of the tiny Vatican City, which has fewer than 1,000 inhabitants in an area less than half a square-kilometer in size, making it the smallest country in the world.
But a U.N. committee that monitors a key treaty on children’s rights blasted the Holy See in January, accusing it of systematically placing its own interests over those of victims by enabling priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children through its own policies and code of silence. And that committee rejected a similar argument the Vatican made trying to limit its responsibility.
If a U.N. committee finds the abuse amounts to torture and inhuman treatment, that could open the floodgates to abuse lawsuits dating back decades because there are no statute of limitations on torture cases, said Katherine Gallagher, a human rights attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal group based in New York. The group submitted reports on behalf of victims to both committees urging closer U.N. scrutiny of the church record on child abuse.
Gallagher said that rape legally can constitute a form of torture because of the elements of intimidation, coercion, and exploitation of power, and that it is a “disingenuous argument” for the Vatican to assert its only responsibility for the anti-torture treaty lies within Vatican City.
When they signed the treaty, Vatican officials said they were only doing so on behalf of Vatican City not the Holy See, which is the governing structure of the universal church.