St. Peter's Basilica in early morning light.

Vatican could face flood of torture-related abuse lawsuits

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican could face a wave of new sexual abuse claims dating back decades if a United Nations inquiry finds that the Roman Catholic Church has violated an international treaty against torture and inhuman treatment.

St. Peter's Basilica in early morning light.

St. Peter's Basilica in early morning light.

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, on behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Monday (May 5) that victims may look at fresh litigation since torture was not bound by the statute of limitations in many of the 155 countries that have endorsed or ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture, including the United States.

“For too long, sexual violence and acts of rape by the Catholic Church have been minimized,” said Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at the New York-based CCR, after the U.N. panel that enforces the torture convention held hearings in Geneva.

“To recognize these acts of torture could assist greatly in the statute of limitations problems that some people have faced. In the U.S., you don’t have a statute of limitations on torture.”

Earlier, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's ambassador to U.N. agencies in Geneva, sought to limit the Holy See’s legal responsibility for the clerical sex abuse scandal, just three months after the Vatican was severely criticized by another U.N. panel for failing to protect children at risk.

The Vatican ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture in 2002.

"The Holy See intends to focus exclusively on the Vatican City State," he said, implying that the church's responsibility did not extend to dioceses and churches around the world.

"State authorities are obligated to protect and, when necessary, to prosecute persons under their jurisdiction.”

Panel member Felice Gaer, a human rights expert from the American Jewish Committee, raised concerns about the Vatican’s bid to limit its jurisdiction. She also asked Tomasi if the church was reviewing an Austrian law dating back to Adolf Hitler that she said gave priests immunity from prosecution unless they were first defrocked.

During Monday’s hearing, committee members expressed concern that allegations of rape and sex abuse continued to come from alleged victims, and one even blamed the Vatican for the incidence of thousands of “unsafe” abortions stemming from the rape of minors.

Ashley McGuire from the conservative group Catholic Voices USA dismissed the inference as inappropriate and outside the inquiry’s brief. “The U.N. committee against torture seems to be setting the stage that if you are pro-life you are pro-torture,” she said in a statement.

Panel chairman Claudio Grossman said the U.N. wanted to “see more” from the new Vatican commission on protecting minors, led by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

On Saturday, O’Malley and seven other members of the commission met for the first time in Rome, and O'Malley conceded that many in the church did not see sexual abuse as a problem.

In their submission to the U.N., the CCR and SNAP accused the Vatican of “refusing to honor its obligations” to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or introduce adequate reforms to prevent sexual violence.

“The church has operated with secrecy rather than transparency, and demanded silence from victims as part of any settlement,” the submission said.

In February, a U.N. committee on the rights of the child denounced the Vatican for adopting policies that allowed priests to sexually abuse thousands of children, and called for known and suspected abusers to be immediately removed.

Pope Francis strongly rejected the report’s findings and insisted the church had acted with “transparency and responsibility.” Francis recently said he took personal responsibility for the "evil" of clerical sex abuse, sought forgiveness from victims and said the church must do more to protect children.



  1. As your colleague Mr. Gibson so eloquently said via his (what else 🙂 Twitter handle: Um, no.

    Also, good grief.

  2. As a physician who is Catholic and who has met many who have been sexually abused by priests, I am grateful that Cardinal O’Malley admits that the church leaders do not see clergy sexual abuse as a problem. This is what comes of having a childless and celibate clergy whose lives are centered on themselves. The seminaries have trained them to be above everyone else as princes of the church, whereas Jesus chose to be a servant of the people. The clergy control by the smoke and mirrors of ritual, and ignore the fundamental command of Jesus to protect the innocence of children and the words of Jesus that it is the truth that will set the church free.

  3. @Dr. Rosemary,

    “The clergy … ignore the fundamental command of Jesus to protect the innocence of children”

    Where is that written?
    Jesus admonished the Pharisees for not stoning unruly children to death.

    Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? …. ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’(Matthew 15:3)

    The Vatican should be closed and turned into a museum. Half of its clergy should be tried for coverups and aiding and abetting criminals.
    Archbishop Bernie Law should be in prison.

  4. Atheist Max, Read the Gospels because Jesus said that anyone who harms children should have a milestone put around his neck and tossed into the sea.
    Whether this statement is literal or not, it certainly is evocative that Jesus found harming children to be of greatest repugnance and deserving punishment.

    Also, your citation is dubious and self-serving.

  5. Actually, most child abuse happens in cohabitating situations, public school settings, divorced families, protestant churches, etc., by men, or women, who are already having consensual sex with an adult, married or otherwise, but prefers to abuse a child also. Celibacy has nothing to do with child abuse. If that were true, all virgins and people who choose to live celibate would be, according to what you just stated, self centered and looking to hurt others.

  6. @Leo,

    The problem with “Reading the Gospel” is that it is a multiple choice result:

    “I and the Lord are ONE.”
    The Lord commands “death to unruly children”
    The Lord says kill those (drown with “a millstone”) who hurt children.
    The Lord commands abortions (hosea)

    Religion is simply ridiculous.

    And yes, the Catholic Church should cease to exist. It is a criminal organization in more ways than can be counted.

  7. Right on! Finally a voice or reason.

  8. Dr. McHugh
    Did you know that 1.7% of the Catholic clergy has been found guilty of pedophilia while 10% of the Protestant ministers have been found guilty of the same crime of pedophilia. This is not a Catholic Problem.

    My question: why is there no public outcry against the 10% of the Protestant ministers who by the way are not celibate yet are guilty of sexually abusing children???????

  9. What about the spiritual damage done to children by teaching them heresy? Bring out the millstones – but there must be millions of them ……

  10. Hey Rosie! A physician or a PETA-veterinarian? Also, tell us, when did the Masons start admitting women to the lodge? You’re so full of what makes the grass grow green that your medical degree should be revoked. If my 75 year old, three legged hamster had a seizure I wouldn’t send it to you! BTW, you are no Catholic despite your Irish name lady…

  11. Hey Max, you Jews should stay the hell out of Catholic matters!! It’s you and the ACLU commie scum who have just about destroyed Western Christian civilization. If the world had any sanity left, atheists (mostly non practicing Jews) would be sent into large scale mental institutions where you wouldn’t have to worry about hurting yourselves!

  12. Dr Rosemary it just goes to show, you can have all kinds of degrees an still be as STUPID as a rock like you,celibacy has nothing to do with child molestation,if you would only look at the research done an it finds public school teachers a single woman who has kids an she has a boyfriend he abuses her kids,protestant clergy,so Dr Rosemary educate your self an quit being so stupid about a situation you don’t know nothing about.

  13. I was a Catholic for 44 years. Raised my kids in the church, and taught Sunday school for 3 summers in a row.

    Religion is ruining everything. Absolutely despicable.
    Listen to you religiously generated hatred toward Jews. You have no reason to be so afraid of them, but they scare you.

    Don’t be scared. You were raised to believe Jesus was real – maybe by Sunday School teachers like me. So I’ll take the fair amount of blame.

    But it is despicable – beyond horrible – to continue believing something as divisive, hateful, and cancerous as Christianity. The evidence has shown the whole thing to be a mirage.

    By the way, you need psychological help as a result of your Christian upbringing. Get some.

  14. Why do you have to act ignorant and put the doctor down? She was stating what her experience has been. It is true many children were abused by priests and it is true the Catholic Church tried to cover it up. Somehow, I think Jesus would stand with those who were abused and expect all churches to do so too. I think we need to quit pointing fingers and admit the Churches really chose the wrong path to take. Instead of being truly Christian and not try and get out of their responsibilities to the victims, they chose to lie about the whole sordid mess. How is that Christ like? thus we need as a people and as a church do what Jesus would want us to do….be on the side of the victims and make every effort to help these victims any and all treatment and assistant they would need throughout their lives. Quit pointing fingers at everyone else and accept your own responsibilities!

  15. The bible was writted in an age when there was less security , now in the sky is hidden camaras that see where you can not ….you cant even barrie a body without big brother seeing you…. It makes no sence why you would think you would have to hide yourself from such accusation… big brother is watching you and you problbly dont evan realize it,,,,, just a reminder!!! that they already know weather you a re telling the truth or not!!!!!!THE UNITED STATE OF AMERICA leading the future in the technology and the leading county of seperation of church and state… has a very nice greeting but once inside it could become very dangerious…..just gotta love big brother

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