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Pope Francis meets with U.N. officials in March 2013

UNITED NATIONS – Last Thursday in Geneva a panel from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in a open hearing televised live on the Internet, grilled Vatican officials over the handling of cases of sex abuse by clergy, while neglecting to reference the many different sex scandals involving U.N. personnel that have plagued the organization for decades.

Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican official responsible for prosecuting clergy accused of sex crimes over 10 years, from 2002 until 2012, explained to the U.N. panel that it is not the policy of the Holy See to cover up sex crimes committed by the clergy.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi cautioned the U.N. panel that the legal jurisdiction of the Vatican to punish clergy criminally was often trumped by criminal laws within the jurisdiction in which the accused clergy resided.

The Vatican ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, but did not submit any reports until 2012, when the Vatican reported it was aware of 612 new cases of sexual abuse charges in 2012, 418 of which involved minors.

Since the 1970s, sex abuse scandals involving clergy have cost the Vatican a loss of credibility across the globe, with accusations the Holy See’s reaction until recently has been to shuffle the accused clergy to another diocese or assignment in an effort to cover up rather than prosecute the crime.

Pope Francis copes with sex-abuse scandal

In December 2013, after refusing a U.N. request for information on alleged sexual abuse cases involving the clergy, Pope Francis announced through Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, the decision by the Vatican to set up a child sex-abuse committee involving a panel of experts charged with producing guidelines of conduct for Catholic clergy and church officials.

In 2002, Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, then the archbishop of Boston, was forced to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston. The resignation was triggered by particularly sensational accusations of child molestation involving Father John Geoghan tracing back to 1984 that resulted in Geoghan’s criminal conviction for indecent assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy.

Pope Francis raised further questions about the Vatican’s sincerity in prosecuting clergy accused of sex abuse when Law was given an appointment as archpriest at the prestigious Basilica of St. Maria Major in Rome.

Last Thursday, however, in a particularly blunt homily delivered at a Vatican Mass, Pope Francis explained scandals in the Catholic Church happen because there is no living relationship with God and his Word, thus corrupt priests, instead of giving “the Bread of Life,” give a poisoned message to the faithful.

“But are we ashamed?” Pope Francis asked in the homily broadcast by Vatican Radio.

“So many scandals that I do not want to mention individually, but all of us know … we know where they are! Scandals, some who charged a lot of money [to] the shame of the Church! But are we all ashamed of those scandals, of those failings of priests, bishops, laity? Where was the Word of God in those scandals; where was the Word of God in those men and in those women? They did not have a relationship with God! They had a position in the Church, a position of power, even of comfort. But the Word of God, no!”

On Friday, the Associated Press reported Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests in 2011 and 2012 for molesting children.

In a document prepared for release to the U.N., the Vatican confirmed a dramatic increase over the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009 for alleged sexual abuse.

The AP acknowledged “a remarkable evolution in the Holy See’s in-house procedures to discipline pedophiles since 2001,” when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [subsequently elected Pope Benedict XVI] ordered bishops to send to Rome for review all cases of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Et tu, U.N.?

Yet even as the Vatican is making strides to explain to the U.N. its efforts to clean house of sexual abuse, the international body headquartered in New York has its own skeletons in the closet.

On March 13, 2005, for example, Washington Post staff writer Colum Lynch reported “a culture of sexual permissiveness” has plagued U.N. peacekeeping operations worldwide for the past 12 years.

“The reports of sexual abuse have come from U.N. officials, internal U.N. documents and local and international human rights organizations that have tracked the issue,” Lynch wrote. “Some U.N. officials and outside observers say there have been cases of abuse in almost every U.N. mission, including operations in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Kosovo.”

On May 8, 2006, the BBC reported a widespread scandal in which UN peacekeepers were demanding “sex for aid” from girls as young as 8 years old in Liberia.

In 2008, an international scandal developed when U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti were involved in gang-rape charges in the Ivory Coast, and in 2011, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica apologized to Haitian President Michel Martelly over the alleged rape of an 18-year-old Haitian man by Uruguayan U.N. peacekeeping troops then in Haiti.

Despite a U.N. “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse announced in 2003, the U.N. has focused serious attention on addressing sex crimes among more than 120,000 personnel deployed in 16 different peacekeeping missions globally, the New York Times reported in 2011.

“What do we do when those we entrust with our greatest hopes betray that trust?” asked Gerald Caplan writing in The Globe and Mail published in Canada on Aug. 3, 2012. “If the betrayers are United Nations peacekeepers, the answer seems to be nothing at all. There is distressing new evidence, most of it reported here for the first time, that foreign soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo can sexually and violently violate young girls with impunity so long as they wear that iconic blue beret or blue helmet.”

In 2013, the United Nations acknowledged in what appears to be a continuing problem for the U.N. worldwide its peacekeeping mission in Mali had received allegations of serious misconduct by its peacekeeping troops then in Mali, including an alleged incident of sexual abuse.

“The secretary-general is treating this matter with the utmost seriousness and, in line with established procedure, is in the process of notifying the troop-contributing countries,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, told a news briefing in New York on Sept. 22, 2013, in reference to the sexual abuse allegations against U.N. peacekeepers in Mali.

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