Summary of issues
Download the full text of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and CRIN’s alternative report submitted for the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s (UNCAT) review of the Holy See during UNCAT’s 52nd session. Below is a summary.
In CRIN’s view, the Holy See has acquiesced to the rape of children committed worldwide by Catholic clergy and others operating under its authority, and has therefore failed its duties to prevent torture and other acts of ill-treatment within its jurisdiction in violation of the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Accordingly, CRIN believes the issue of child rape in the Catholic Church should form part of the Committee Against Torture’s review of the Holy See. However, the Holy See’s initial report to the Committee does not address this issue at all.
Rape is widely recognised by international human rights bodies as a form of torture and/or ill-treatment. The Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, stated that “[i]t is widely recognised, including by former Special Rapporteurs on torture and by regional jurisprudence, that rape constitutes torture when it is carried out by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of public officials”. Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have held that in certain circumstances rape can amount to torture where there is public involvement.
The Holy See has jurisdiction over acts of rape committed by Catholic clergy and others operating under its authority worldwide. In its concluding observations on the Holy See in February 2014, the Committee on the Rights of the Child confirmed that the jurisdiction of the Holy See, “as the supreme power of the Catholic Church”, extends “worldwide” to “individuals and institutions under its authority”. Likewise, the Holy See, in ratifying CAT, has jurisdiction over acts of torture, including rape, committed by individuals and institutions operating under its authority worldwide.
The Holy See has acquiesced to the rape of tens of thousands of children worldwide by Catholic clergy and others under its authority, in violation of CAT. Victims worldwide have reported cases of rape and other forms of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. From Ireland to Kenya, Colombia to Poland, the United States to the Philippines - it is hard to find a country with a significant Catholic population where there have not been serious allegations of child sexual abuse, including rape, by Catholic clergy.
As highlighted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its concluding observations, “the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, nor taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children”. Instead, the Holy See “has adopted policies and practices which have enabled the continuation of sexual abuse by clerics and impunity for the perpetrators”. These include the following:
- Well-known child sexual abusers have been transferred from parish to parish or to other countries in an attempt by the Church to cover up such crimes. This practice has allowed many priests to remain in contact with children and to continue to abuse them, and places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, including rape, by clerics.
- Through a confidential order issued in 1962 by the Holy Office to senior clerics worldwide, the Holy See established a policy and practice of secrecy concerning cases of sexual abuse. The document imposed an obligation of silence on all members of the clergy, instructing them to conceal all cases of sexual abuse and threatening to excommunicate those who spoke out. As a result, cases of child sexual abuse, including rape, have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where the crimes were committed.
- In cases where rape or other sexual abuse has been addressed by the Holy See, it has been treated as a “grave delict against the moral” through confidential proceedings providing for disciplinary measures which have allowed the vast majority of abusers and almost all those who have concealed such cases to escape judicial proceedings in States where the abuses were committed.
- Reporting to law enforcement authorities has never been made compulsory. In many cases, Church authorities, including at the highest levels of the Holy See, have shown reluctance and in some instances, explicitly rejected reporting to and cooperating with such authorities.
- The Holy See has declined to publicise data on cases of child sexual abuse, including rape, brought to its attention over the reporting period, and the outcome of the internal procedure in these cases.
Although the Holy See has started to recognise the seriousness and scale of the abuse, this has not resulted in clear action to ensure that allegations of rape and other forms of sexual abuse are reported publicly and investigated and prosecuted by law enforcement authorities. Even in 2014 - years into the abuse scandal - the Holy See’s reforms remain vague and do not address clerics worldwide. There are no guidelines dealing directly with ensuring the welfare of victims, and many serious cases are still dealt with internally.
The Holy See’s failure to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators has and continues to facilitate and enable Catholic clergy and others under its authority to commit acts of rape and other sexual abuse with impunity. The Holy See is responsible under CAT for acquiescing to such acts of torture and/or ill-treatment.
CRIN’s recommendations. In light of the above, we urge the Committee Against Torture to recommend that the Holy See:
- Disclose all information held by the Holy See on cases of rape and other forms of sexual abuse by clerics and others under its authority to the Committee and the public, including the measures the Holy See has taken in response to these cases, while protecting the privacy of victims;
- Immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from service, report the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities, and cooperate with such authorities in their investigation and prosecution;
- Amend the Canon Law in order for child sexual abuse, including rape, to be considered a crime and not a “delict against the moral”, and repeal all provisions which may impose an obligation of silence on victims and all those that become aware of such crimes;
- Establish clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of rape and other forms of sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities, and ensure that all persons under the authority of the Holy See are made aware of their reporting obligations and of the fact that, in case of conflict, these obligations prevail over Canon Law provisions; and
- Create a publicly accessible complaints procedure and a compensation scheme for victims of sexual abuse, including rape, by clerics and others under the authority of the Holy See.