UN report was a missed opportunity

Report is tarnished by an ideological agenda

Was the Vatican slow to appreciate the full horror of the crisis of sexual abuse by priests and religious? Were there elements within the Roman Curia who were, to say the least, unhelpful on the issue? The answer, of course, is yes on both counts. The Vatican was certainly part of the problem when it came to the disastrous behaviour of bishops and religious superiors around the world covering up the crimes of abusive priests. But has the Vatican been coordinating a cover-up of abuse? Well, the short answer is no.

Last week’s UN report on the Vatican and child abuse is at best a travesty of the truth and at best a missed opportunity. The report is seemingly unaware of what the Church has done to respond to the abuse crisis and ignorant of Church structures.

Respected Catholic commentator Austen Ivereigh has gone so far as to describe the UN Committee as a “kangaroo court”.

So, where does the UN get it wrong? Firstly, there is a staggering ignorance of the seismic shift there has been in the Church’s approach. Nowhere is there an acknowledgement that the Church in countries like Ireland has achieved a gold standard in safeguarding, creating guidelines and best and best practice which are generally much more stringent than those of the State. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin joked at the weekend that the safeguarding structures in Ireland were so good he was thinking of hiring them out to help the hapless HSE improve their standards.

The Vatican, at least since 2001 has been to the fore of pushing this approach in countries around the world where bishops have been dragging their heels. But, rather than acknowledging this, the UN thunders that “the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests”. This allegation is depressingly true of the past, but bears no resemblance to the current reality. But why spoil a good story with the truth?

The sad fact is that the UN report is a wasted opportunity largely because it is driven by an ideological agenda rather than any real concern for the protection of vulnerable children.

There are still some senior people within the Church who would want to the whole issue of child protection to go away. There are those who would see it merely as a media conspiracy. There are those who jump and down about the rights of the handful of falsely-accused priests without even a shred of concern for those whose lives have been destroyed. It is people like this that the UN has strengthened. It allows deniers within the Church to point to the report and say “look, the Church’s enemies are using this to try and promote abortion”.

The really pressing work for the Holy See and the Church at large is to ensure that the kind of gold standard child safeguarding and accountability procedures that are in place in countries like Ireland go global. Under Benedict XVI this gained pace with the Vatican insisting that all bishops’ conference implement robust guidelines. This will, undoubtedly, continue with the commission being set up by Pope Francis.

The UN could’ve acted as an encouraging voice and strengthened the hand of those pushing for better guidelines to be universalised. Instead, it chose to deliver a sloppy report filled with bias and half-truths. The protection of children and vulnerable adults in the Church is a vital one. One, however, that this particular UN Committee has shown itself to have very little credibility on.