19 June 2013
Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking the Committee for inviting us to this important event. Without presuming the outcome of this process, we think it is important to note that just by following your own rules and process for overseeing compliance with the Convention and Optional Protocols, and prompting the Holy See, or Vatican, to do the same, you are doing something no other international body has done – questioning the Vatican about its own record on children’s rights, in particular the widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence against children and Vatican practices that provide cover for and enable this violence.
That is the one simple thing that has never been done, despite decades of sexual violence against children and cover ups – an international secular body asking questions and saying clearly and strongly that top Catholic officials must place the best interests of the child (not the best interests of the church) at the center of its responses and actions. By repeatedly refusing to do this, the Vatican has violated on a massive scale its obligations under this treaty to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of children to be free from “all forms of mental and physical violence… including sexual abuse.”
We have provided you separately with an overview of what we know at this point of the scale and magnitude of the offenses. We would add that some experts have estimated that in the U.S. alone between 1950 and 2002 there may have been more than 100,000 victims of clergy sex abuse.  And recently, an expert testifying before the Victoria Commission in Australia estimated conservatively that rates of abuse in the Catholic church were six times higher than in all other churches in Australia combined. These numbers reflect long-standing church practices which allow sexual violence and exploitation of children to flourish.
Some church officials have attempted to evade responsibility by pointing to the fact that sexual abuse happens in other institutional and religious settings. Yes, rape and other forms of sexual violence happen elsewhere and are sometimes covered up and those cases must be addressed by national authorities where those crimes occur. But arguments such as these ignore the fact that there is simply no other organization with power as centralized and unchecked as that of the church, with the global presence, authority and influence of the church. These factors have allowed it to subvert efforts at local and national levels to address the problem and permitted it to forestall accountability by exploiting the advantages afforded to both states and religions.
Those who sustain these systemic practices of “priest-shifting,” destroying evidence or otherwise obstructing justice and refusing to cooperate with civil authorities remain in place, unhampered by higher church officials. No one from a Cardinal to a custodian has ever been fired, demoted, suspended or even harshly and publicly denounced by the church hierarchy for concealing or enabling sexual violence – no matter how seriously or illegally he may have endangered children or caused harm.
Based on our 25 years of experience with this crisis, we feel confident in predicting that church officials will make the following claims in January.
1) They may tell you that their relatively new policies are making a difference. But at best, it’s too early to tell – since child victims usually can’t speak up until they are in their 30s, 40s or beyond. And at worst, there is already evidence that the same problematic practices are still prevalent. After 10 years of such policies in the U.S., grand jury investigations and other criminal investigations have confirmed that the same practices of cover-up and concealment are still happening behind the smokescreen of zero-tolerance. And that doesn’t take into account the as yet-to-unfold crisis we expect in Africa and Latin America as more victims and survivors come forward.
2) They may also point to canon law. It would be putting it mildly to say that Vatican rules and procedures governing handling of sexual violence against children are woefully inadequate. They do not comport with minimum requirements for victim protection and participation; there is no independent judiciary; no right to be heard; no transparency; and ultimately no accountability. Rather, the array of weak, murky and secretive procedures invoked by the Vatican in these cases – often to avoid independent, credible oversight – amounts in the end to nothing more than the personnel policy of a large corporation. Because ultimately what this process leads to, often after many years, is a decision as to whether a priest who has raped or sexually assaulted a child should be allowed to continue in the priesthood or otherwise suspended.
3) They may also point to other policies, procedures and panels. But these too are meaningless as they have no teeth. They have been adopted at the insistence of church insurers, defense lawyers and public relations advisors. No one is ever punished for violating these vague and ineffective guidelines.
For too long there has been a deafening silence at the international level about this continuing global crisis. The Vatican works hard to maintain this silence – in part by not adhering to its reporting obligations under these and other treaties and then minimizing the problem when it finally has to report. This is a historic moment. You are the first international institution to take this on. We implore you to do so in a clear and strong way that can spur real institutional changes that help children who are being harmed today, and protect others who are vulnerable to horrific sexual violence in the future.