Editorial: The Church on trial

The recent report by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child claimed to be an authoritative review of the Vatican and its role in the sexual abuse crisis that has convulsed the Church since 1985. Instead, it was a sham that revealed a far broader and more insidious agenda to discredit the Church for its teachings on abortion, homosexuality and birth control.

In his Page 4 report this week, Austen Ivereigh examines the aftermath of the controversial report and suggests it ignored the testimony of Vatican officials and reflected the views of nongovernmental organizations that fiercely oppose what the Church stands for. That such a shabby ideological cudgel should be used to attack one of the strongest defenders of the United Nations and its founding principles makes clear that the Church can expect no quarter from its opponents in what looks to be another front in the ongoing culture war. It is not unreasonable to think that the Vatican, which is a signatory of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, would be an appropriate subject of study.

The U.N. report went way beyond vigilance in lambasting Catholic moral and doctrinal beliefs.

The Church has gone through a long purgatory of self-criticism over the historical record of clergy sexual abuse. In the United States alone, the Church has imposed a zero tolerance policy, paid billions in financial settlements leading to the bankruptcy of 11 dioceses, commissioned a historical analysis of the record and the reasons for the spike in cases from the 1960s-80s by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, and imposed nationwide standards of child protection that are some of the most far-reaching of any institution. But the U.N. committee made no effort to document such reforms or even to put the crisis within a historical context. Despite the evidence that sexual abuse is a worldwide problem infecting all sectors of society, it also made no effort to look at the abuse record of other institutions.

Of course, the fact that child sexual abuse is widespread does not let the Church off the hook. As has been made clear by the actions of the Church and the statements of its leaders, there is a deep sorrow for the crimes committed and there will be a long-lasting vigilance regarding such crimes. But the U.N. report went way beyond vigilance in lambasting Catholic moral and doctrinal beliefs and demanding that the Church:

— Provide family planning to prevent births rather than caring for abandoned children.

— Change Church canon law to allow abortions.

— Change its teachings on contraception and “overcome ... barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information.”

— Make HIV/AIDS prevention a mandatory part of Catholic education.

— Support international efforts to decriminalize homosexuality.

— Remove gender stereotyping from all Catholic textbooks and stop promoting the “complementarity of the sexes.”

That several of the committee members — from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Ethiopia and the Russian Federation — could not legally advance such proposals in their own countries was only one of the ironies of this report.

While the report will quickly be forgotten by most, it shouldn’t be. Like the current battle over U.S. efforts to force Catholic institutions to provide contraception and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees, the U.N. report is a reminder to Catholics that the Church is likely to face increased harassment and persecution for its beliefs.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor