The U.N. Preaches to the Vatican
U.S. caution on joining U.N. human-rights treaties is validated.

Interior of St. Peter's Basilica


The international “smart set” regularly chastises the United States for not ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). One need only look to a recent report by the CRC’s treaty committee for full justification of U.S. reticence.

Human-rights “experts” on U.N. treaty bodies like the Committee on the Rights of the Child often take liberties with international law and make demands for policy changes that go well beyond any reasonable interpretation of the treaty text. But the new report establishes a new standard by criticizing the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, gender stereotyping, contraception, and abortion, urging it to “undertake a comprehensive review of its normative framework, in particular Canon Law, with a view to ensuring its full compliance with the Convention.”

In essence, the Committee members are demanding that the Catholic Church abandon its fundamental religious doctrine to satisfy their interpretation of the CRC. Bear in mind that, when it ratified the CRC, the Holy See specifically included several reservations and declarations, including one stating clearly that it “interprets the phrase ‘family planning education and services’ . . . to mean only those methods of family planning which it considers morally acceptable, that is, the natural methods of family planning.” Unsurprisingly, the Committee takes issue with this and “recommends that the Holy See undertake the necessary steps to withdraw all its reservations and to ensure the Convention’s precedence over internal laws and regulations.”

The official response to the report is a model of moderation. After expressing regret over the Committee’s “attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of [the] human person and in the exercise of religious freedom,”  the Holy See “reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child, in line with the principles promoted by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine.”

Commentators have justifiably lambasted the report. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) noted that, in making “political statements about Catholic doctrine on abortion, contraception, and marriage, issues at the core of the Church’s teachings about human rights and the dignity of life,” the report tramples on the religious-freedom principles outlined in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Particularly outrageous is the Committee’s urging the Church to abandon its moral opposition to abortion. From the Catholic Church’s perspective, what greater violation of a child’s rights can there be than to deprive it of life?

The situation is ripe for mockery. For starters, the members of the Committee — supposed experts on children’s rights — include representatives from Bahrain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Sri Lanka. The U.S. State Department reports numerous violations of children’s rights in these nations. A few lowlights:

Bahrain: “Children were also subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. . . . Authorities detained children . . . and subjected them to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, lashing with rubber hoses, threats of sexual assault, burning with cigarettes, and verbal abuse.”

Egypt: “Abuse of children and discrimination against persons with disabilities remained problems . . . and child labor remained a serious problem.”

Ethiopia: “Other human rights problems included . . . violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; . . . exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; . . . and child labor, including forced child labor.”