The UN and the Vatican: Politicizing Torture to Defend Abortion

The Vatican went before the UN Convention on Torture to answer questions about the clergy child abuse scandal and Church teachings on abortion and homosexuality, not as a church, but as a government.

In addition to raising the preposterous idea that Church teaching on abortion is torture of women, the Convention also raised the issue of the practice of transferring child abusing priests from one parish to another.

I am guessing that the Convention’s position on the Vatican and child sexual abuse is based on the contention that sexual child abuse, when it is allowed by a governmental body, is a form of government-sanctioned torture. I may be giving them more credit than they deserve, but that’s the only hook I can see on which they could hang these charges.

I don’t know how they get to their other positions that the Church should change its teachings abortion and homosexuality because they are torture. There is no basis for such claims. I think that these idiotic charges reveal the real motivations behind this line of attack against the Catholic Church.

The Vatican’s position regarding the charges concerning the child sexual abuse scandal is that it did not, as a city state, have governing control of the child-abusing priests around the world who perpetrated these crimes. The Vatican says that the abusers were under the laws and governance of the countries in which they resided.

This is true in a legal sense; in a moral sense, not so much.

The Vatican itself is a city state, and as such can be called to account as a government. However, the Catholic Church, whose head resides in the Vatican, is a church and not a government. That’s a complicated situation which can — and obviously does — lead to all sorts of political gamesmanship.

As a Catholic, I do not think of myself as a citizen of the Vatican. I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church, with the emphasis on Church. 

The Roman Catholic Church is called to a much higher purpose, and is required to behave in an entirely different manner, than any government. It makes claims for itself that go far beyond governance. The leaders of our Church ask for a level of compliance and respect from the laity that good governmental leaders do not ask and bad governmental leaders cannot get.

To be blunt about it, if you are going to go around saying that you speak for Christ, you have a responsibility to not behave like the sons of Satan.

I think that trying to claim that the Church committed torture in the sexual abuse scandal as defined by the Convention on Torture is a callous political ruse. The fact that the Convention added the additional charge that the Church’s teachings on abortion and homosexuality are a form of torture makes that clear.

I think this ruse is designed to lessen the Church’s moral teaching authority on issues such as the sanctity of human life and marriage.

As a tactical action in the culture wars, it is a strong move. The Church’s power, such as it is, comes directly from its moral and prophetic voice.

The clergy sexual abuse of children scandal degrades that moral and prophetic voice in a way that the Church’s enemies, with all their attacks and criticisms, never could. It is a forceful weapon in the hands of those who want to destroy the persuasive power of the Catholic Church’s moral voice. That is why people who hate the Church’s teachings in certain areas seem to delight in talking about the scandal.

They constantly seek new ways to raise that clear failure of Christian discipleship on the part of so many Church leaders and keep it before the public eye because it damages the Church’s claim to holiness.

The sexual abuse of children by predatory adults is widespread in this world. There appears to be certain industries and organizations which routinely cover up for abusers. For instance, the entertainment industry deserves a good looking over in this regard.

Focusing on the Catholic Church to the exclusion of other offenders is not only dishonest, it enables these other predators to continue harming children.

Limiting public outrage about the sexual abuse of children to anger at the Catholic Church does not serve children well. It allows abusers in every other walk of life to keep on abusing. But, even though it does not serve children well, it does serve a political purpose. The purpose is to provide a platform for taking aim at the Church’s teachings that the attackers disagree with.

By using a Convention against torture that the Vatican signed to attack the Church, the enemies of the Church’s teachings in areas such as abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research and questions of economic exploitation weaken the Church’s voice against those things.

I think that is what this whole line of attack is about. In truth, torture is a narrow word that does not lend itself to this kind of politicized use. That is why the word has such historic power. The Convention is broadening the definition of torture beyond its original meaning to raise these charges.

By doing that, it cheapens the moral prohibitions against torture. By callously using torture as a misplaced and politicized gotcha attack instrument, the Convention weakens the very thing it is designed to strengthen, which is the international effort to end the use of torture.

I have strong feelings about the use of torture, based on actual knowledge of torture and contact with victims of torture. I have equally strong feelings about diluting the meaning of the word torture so that it becomes useless. I think this kind of political gamesmanship — which is really about abortion, gay marriage, economic exploitation, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, etc — enables torturers and lets them continue.

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  • Dave

    It damages the Church’s claim to holiness only for those that don’t understand what the claim is. “Holy” means “set apart for a special purpose by God.” It doesn’t mean that everyone who has been baptized automatically becomes perfect. That would be absurd.

    The Church is holy because Her Founder is holy. The Church’s holiness derives from Jesus’ holiness, and the Church itself, and any individual member can be sanctified and made more perfect by taking advantage of the graces imbued in Her.

    What I think about the United Nations in general, and especially regarding this incident, cannot be printed in a combox. They are an instrument of Satan.

  • David M Paggi

    This whole charade was an exercise in Orwellian doublespeak. Under such conditions, it was necessary and appropriate for those speaking for the Vatican City-State to limit potential prosecution and/or liability claims with this common-sense defense, particularly since there was so little common sense evident in the whole episode.

    You obviously are the real expert, so it would be helpful if you could clarify one aspect of this issue. “Torture”, it seems to me, connotes not only physical or psychological abuse against persons, irrespective of their guilt or innocence, but also that its use is justified by its advocates as a regrettable but necessary means of advancing a cause, such as obtaining vital information that could save lives. St Thomas rightly points out that even such a worthy end does not justify evil means.

    Thus to qualify an act to be “torture” there must be an organizational goal to be thereby achieved. We don’t usually call violence perpetrated by individuals for their own gain, such as an act of armed robbery, “torture.” It should similarly be obvious that no organizational end is served by the Church’s ministers to obtain personal gratification (however warped) from abusing her members, particularly children. In any event, the focus of the panel was on the organizational, not the individual, level.

    Of course it is bizarrely contradictory for the same panel to suggest that it is “torture” to NOT provide or promote the violent dismemberment or chemical destruction of persons not yet born.

    On another level, it is also contradictory for the panel to advocate “gay rights” while decrying these overwhelmingly homosexual acts as “torture.” It would rather seem more consistent with their position (however counterintuitive this may be to us) that they should instead admonish the Church for disciplining the guilty priests, since in the U.S. at least, 81% of these acts were homosexual.

    From an even broader perspective, it seems clear that there is considerable sexual aggression by persons caught up in the “gay lifestyle”. Therefore, it stands to reason that a substantial number of “recruits” do so as the result of victimization rather than by having made an authentically free choice. We know that there are many young persons of relatively weak or underdeveloped sexual identity who are therefore vulnerable to this sort of predatory attack. This is precisely the factor that makes the fallen priests’ actions so repugnant.

    Therefore for this panel to advocate “gay rights” it must inevitably advocate the victimization of weaker persons, which certainly seems contradictory to its stated mission, even if not properly defined as “torture.”

    The Church’s moral authority is weakened by the failures of her members, but at least she hews to a consistent moral message. The criteria used by this U.N panel are so contradictory as to negate any meaningful value to its findings.

    “Woe to them who call evil good, and good evil” – Is 5:20.


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