For many years the Vatican has presumed for itself the status of a nation-state. It’s not, of course, but that doesn’t stop it making the claim. As the British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has made clear, the Vatican is not, and cannot be a state. It lacks all the necessities of a sovereign state. With this in mind, the Vatican’s attempt in 2002 to gain full member status of the United Nations was turned down. As a sop to ruffled feathers, the UN spoke of it enjoying “permanent observer status.”
Sitting awkwardly in the UN as a permanent fixture, but without full membership status, the Holy See has meddled continually in programs which offend its official dogmas. And it is noticeable by its absence from a large number of inter-governmental covenants on various human rights.
One international convention it has signed, however, is that on the Rights of the Child. This was in 1989. But ratifying a convention and living by it are very different things. As Robertson has pointed out, Article 19 obliges the Holy See to report all instances of child sexual abuse, which it has not done. And Article 34 requires it to investigate all cases of child sexual abuse. This it has also failed to do.
So, when the eighteen human rights experts comprising the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child prepared a report recently on the level of compliance among signatories to the Convention, it was inevitable that the Vatican should become a topic of conversation. In some respects, the only surprise is that it’s taken so long for the Vatican to feel the heat of a condemnation of its dishonesty over the ongoing sexual abuse scandals. And the UN Committee’s condemnation pulled no punches. It made three main recommendations. It called on the Vatican to remove all abusive priests from its ranks, to report them all to law enforcement authorities, and to open up church archives so that further investigations by secular authorities may be undertaken.
The Holy See’s response to the criticisms has been pathetic. It said that it had no jurisdiction over its priests in countries around the world, and that its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Child applied only to the Vatican City itself. The disingenuousness of this reply beggars belief. As the Vatican can have no children within its territory, given its entire population consists, in principle at least, of celibate men, one has to wonder why it signed the Convention at all. And of course, the Holy See is happy to presume moral and spiritual jurisdiction over sovereign nations when it suits it to do so, as when condemning abortion, contraception or homosexuality.
The United Nations is to be congratulated on making clear this flagrant double standard employed by the Vatican to defend the indefensible.