It is ironic that a few days before fugitive child-molester Roman Polanski finally was arrested in Switzerland -- to the shocked outrage of the cinematic community and the filmmaker's native France and Poland (see Editorial, Page 19) -- a British secularist at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva called for international action against the Vatican because of clerical sex abuse of minors.
It was thought to be the first time the Vatican was criticized on the council's floor. And the Vatican's representative to the agency, after the meeting, issued a strongly worded defense.
The criticism was levied by Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of England's National Secular Society and a representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He's made similar arguments in the past, but never in the context of the U.N. meeting.
"For decades the Church has got away with covering up child abuse on a huge scale," he said afterward. "The Holy See is in breach of its obligation under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. This challenge marks the start of our campaign to shame the U.N. and the international community into calling the Vatican to account."
Considering the source, this campaign looks a lot more like an attack simply on organized religion.
The Vatican didn't take it lying down.
"As the Catholic Church has been busy cleaning its own house, it would be good if other institutions and authorities, where the major part of abuses are reported, could do the same and inform the media about it," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, according to a report in England's Guardian newspaper.
In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, Archbishop Tomasi pointed to statistics in a 2002 Christian Science Monitor report that most American churches being hit with child sex abuse allegations are Protestant. He also noted studies that show that 85 percent of sex offenders are family members or friends of the victims. So addressing child abuse means starting with preventive measures in the home.
These facts need saying.
Let us be clear: The point here is not to try to deflect attention from the problem as it exists or existed in the Catholic Church -- and the damage to souls should not be underestimated or dismissed.
The point is that if we are truly concerned about addressing the problem of child sex abuse in society, an exclusive focus on the Catholic Church is going to miss a majority of the instances -- and begins to look an awful lot like animus against the Church for baser motives.
I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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