UN Experts’ Letter to Vatican Has ‘No Real Teeth,’ Says Church Official

A Church official, who asked not to be named as he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said that while the letter lacked “teeth,” it signaled frustration among activists seeking to advance abortion and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) issues through international institutions.

United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland.
United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland. (photo: Groov3 via Wikimedia (CC0 1.0). / Shutterstock)

VATICAN CITY — A Church official said Monday that a letter from U.N. experts accusing the Vatican of engaging in “obstructive practices” related to clerical abuse has “no real teeth.”

In the 11-page letter, made public on June 21, the four experts argued that the Vatican was using international agreements to avoid accepting responsibility for abuse committed by members of the Catholic Church. 

“We urge the authorities of the Holy See to refrain from obstructive practices and to cooperate fully with the civil, judicial and law enforcement authorities of the countries concerned, as well as to refrain from signing or using existing agreements to evade accountability for Church members accused of abuse,” said the letter, whose existence was first reported by CNA on June 20.

A Church official, who asked not to be named as he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told CNA that while the letter lacked “teeth,” it signaled frustration among activists seeking to advance abortion and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) issues through international institutions. 

“It is a sign, however, of how frustrated the pro-abortion and pro-SOGI forces are that they can’t bulldoze their agenda at the U.N. because of the work of several member states and a permanent observer. Hence the concerted attempt to undermine the credibility of the Holy See,” the official said.

The letter was signed by Fabián Salvioli, Mama Fatima Singhateh, Nils Melzer, and Gerard Quinn, who work as U.N. special rapporteurs. 

The U.N. defines special rapporteurs as independent human rights experts who work in conjunction with the U.N. Human Rights Council. They are not U.N. staff and work on a voluntary basis.

The text, which was dated April 7 and written in French, built on a letter sent to the Vatican in April 2019 by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, then U.N. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

The four signatories also referred to a U.N. news release issued in December 2019 welcoming Pope Francis’ decision that the pontifical secret would no longer apply in cases of accusations and trials involving abuse of minors or vulnerable persons.

The letter, written in French, highlighted abuse cases in Europe, North America, and South America. It also described the evolution of the Vatican’s response to clerical abuse under Pope Francis. 

After noting the lifting of the pontifical secret, it said: “We regret, however, that the request to report crimes to civil authorities is not yet mandatory, and we urge your Excellency’s government to consider making this request mandatory as soon as possible.”

The Vatican is concerned by the introduction of mandatory reporting laws around the world that would require priests to violate the seal of confession. It stressed the “absolute inviolability” of the seal in a note issued in July 2019.

Commenting on the widespread nature of clerical abuse cases, the U.N. experts’ letter said, “we remind you of the obligation of states, as stated in international human rights standards, to take measures of justice, truth, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition to respond to serious human rights violations.”

The letter asked the Holy See to provide detailed responses to the points it raised within 60 days, after which time, it said, the letter would be made public. 

It concluded with an appeal to the Vatican “to urgently establish an investigative mechanism to clarify and establish the truth about all allegations of sexual abuse of children, and their cover-up, by clerics of the Catholic Church in various countries of the world, and to proceed with the reparation due to the victims.” 

“Such a mechanism must be independent, autonomous from ecclesiastical authorities, and in conformity with international norms,” it said.

The Vatican had not commented on the special rapporteurs’ letter at the time of publication. 

But the Holy See outlined its position on some of the matters raised in the letter in a 2014 document, written in response to a critical report by the Committee of the U.N. Convention for the Rights of the Child, which touched on matters such as abortion and canon law.

The text said that the committee had “overlooked important distinctions between the Holy See, Vatican City State and the universal Catholic Church.”