GENEVA — All individuals who commit torture and abuse must face prosecution from legitimate government authorities, a Holy See delegation has told a U.N. committee on a global anti-torture convention.
“The Holy See wishes to reiterate that the persons who live in a particular country are under the jurisdiction of the legitimate authorities of that country and are thus subject to the domestic law and the consequences contained therein,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations in Geneva, said May 5.
“State authorities are obligated to protect and, when necessary, prosecute persons under their jurisdiction,” the archbishop said, adding that these authorities are responsible for justice regarding “crimes and abuses committed by persons under their jurisdiction.”
The archbishop addressed the U.N.’s Committee on the Convention Against Torture, a convention the Holy See signed in 2002.
Each of the 155 states that are parties to the convention are obliged to report to the U.N. committee every four years to discuss its implementation.
The archbishop said the Holy See’s principles and vision of the human person are “in harmony” with the ideals and practices of the anti-torture convention.
The Holy See rejects torture as “inadmissible and inhuman” and lauds the convention as “a worthy instrument for the defense against acts of torture,” he added.
Attacks on the Vatican
The delegation’s appearance comes several months after a controversial February report from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, which used a discussion of the children’s rights convention to claim that the Vatican had “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children. The committee also used the report to condemn Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception and abortion, while calling for changes in Catholic doctrine.
On May 2, Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office, praised the principles of the anti-torture convention while also warning against non-governmental organization pressure groups with a “strong ideological character and orientation” that are attempting to influence both the U.N. committee and public opinion.
The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal group representing the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has tried to depict the committee hearing as an effort to address sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Tomasi, addressing the U.N. committee, stressed the “essential distinctions” between the Holy See and the Vatican City State, over which the Holy See exercises sovereignty. The Holy See signed the convention “with the very clear and direct intention that this convention applied to Vatican City State,” the archbishop said.
The archbishop said there is “much confusion” over the Holy See’s jurisdiction. The Holy See has “no jurisdiction” over “every member of the Catholic Church,” he clarified.
Holy See’s Moral Voice
The Holy See “globally encourages basic principles and authentic human rights” recognized in the convention and implements the convention within the territory of Vatican City State, in harmony with the interpretative declaration the Holy See issued upon signing the convention.
Archbishop Tomasi noted that the Holy See’s media services reach a “truly international audience” that makes the Holy See “arguably one of the most effective moral voices in the world for human rights, including the position against torture and other cruel and inhuman punishments.”
“In this way, the moral voice of the Holy See, while promoting and defending all authentic human rights, reaches the members of the Catholic Church in an attempt to foster an interior conversion of hearts to love God and one’s neighbor. This love, in turn, should overflow into good practices at the local level, in accordance with the laws of states.”
The Holy See delegation will respond to questions from the Committee on the Convention Against Torture later on Tuesday, May 6. On May 23, the U.N. committee will publish its report on the Holy See and on seven other countries who are signatories to the convention. The states will each be able to issue a response.
The Holy See delegation to the committee hearing included Msgr. Christophe El-Kassis and Vincenzo Buonomo, both of the Secretariat of State, and Msgr. Richard Gyhra, secretary of the Holy See’s permanent observer mission.