What Is Torture and What Is a Bullying Campaign?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Rome – Sunday morning, thousands – many of them young families — poured into St. Peter’ Square, having walked through Rome in an annual pro-life march. From a window above, Pope Francis thanked the ecumenical crowd for its commitment to speaking out to protect innocent human life.

Today in Geneva, that United Nations committee on torture I’ve been mentioning (see here and here and here and here) heard testimony arguing that the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion is psychological torture for women. 

Not everyone reading this agrees with the Catholic Church on abortion, but I suspect you may agree with the dangerousness of this New Intolerance, as a report from Catholic Voices USA puts it. (Austen Ivereigh in England has a comprehensive look at what’s going on here.)

The other argument that the committee is hearing is that sexual abuse in the church through the years at the hands of priests — evil, opposite of what the Church teaches — is torture. It’s worth considering, however, what the Holy See (a nation-state), signed onto when it signed the convention against torture:

“For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Sexual abuse of children is evil. It’s not what is described above.

Ed Mechmann makes this point and further writes:

Sexual abuse of minors is many, many things — all of them evil — but it is clearly not that.

One would hope that when “international law” is invoked, that we actually pay attention to what the international law really is. When the Holy See signed the Convention, it made clear that it would only apply to the Vatican City State, not to the religious activities of the Catholic Church. Agreeing to a treaty with limitations is common practice (for example, the United States filed a lengthy list of reservations and objections to the Torture Convention). It’s International Law 101 that nations are only bound by international treaties to the extent that they agree to them, and no more. How can anyone take the Committee on the Convention seriously if they don’t understand that basic principle?

The Holy See made clear in its statement to the committee that it is unalterably opposed to torture or degrading treatment of any kind, and that it has taken many significant concrete steps against sexual abuse of minors. They also warned that the committee’s work should not be hijacked by those with an agenda that is hostile to the Church.

But no corrective steps will ever satisfy the ideological groups that are behind this tragic farce. For once, they actually gave the real agenda away, in the words of the attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights (the main instigator): “such a finding could open the floodgates to abuse lawsuits dating back decades because there are no statutes of limitations on torture cases.”

Remember that CCR is a radically left-wing organization that has deep-seated enmity towards the Catholic Church based on our teachings on sexuality and abortion. CCR has been involved deeply in harassing the Holy See in front of international tribunals. They even filed a complaint in the International Criminal Court charging the Holy See with “crimes against humanity” (it was dismissed). The UN is also filled with nations and with functionaries who share that hostility to the Church and our teachings.

The Holy See has consistently supported international authorities as a way to work for world peace. But the UN itself undermined that lofty goal, once again. This kind of hearing is a sham, an injustice, and act of anti-Catholic bigotry on an international stage, motivated by ideology and money. It is a disgrace.

Oppose Church teaching and make your case for why you think it’s wrong. Freedom! Vigorous debate! Reason. These are good things. But don’t try to use the U.N. as a bludgeon with which to re-victimize people and silence the institution that does the most for the suffering – including, yes, women and innocent human life – than anyone in the world. And it should be an ecumenical prayer that this committee doesn’t let itself become a bully, abusing its power at the hands of a radical secularist ideological campaign. 

(Full disclosure: I helped found Catholic Voices USA.)