Getting to Facts in Geneva: Torture, Life, Law, Truth, Transparency, Freedom

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Reading some of the press coverage this morning on the Holy See’s ongoing “grilling” in Geneva, I saw the media picking up on Felice Gaer, of the U.N. torture committee (and no impartial witness on some of the so-called “social issues” coming up during the deliberations), accusing the Holy See of “splitting hairs” in explaining that the pope doesn’t have direct oversight over the details of every parish in the U.S. This isn’t splitting hairs but canon law. It’s also healthy. While the Magisterium teaches what is Catholic, the sorting out of all kinds of prudential and administrative questions will happen on the ground in parishes, under the guidance of bishops, and with the help of episcopal conferences. When something goes wrong, you wouldn’t want the first call to be to a Roman curial office … that simply and obviously wouldn’t be efficient.

My sense is that it is news to some on the U.N. torture committee the depth and the breadth of the penitential and preventative work the Catholic Church – most especially in the United States – has done in the last twelve years to make Catholic schools, social-service agencies, and even administrative institutions the safest places for children. It’s a model that anyone interested in protecting children should be knocking on the door to learn from.

If the U.N. committee can see beyond this campaign to shut down the Church’s voice in the public square, there’s a world of good that came out of tremendous evil. Evil perpetrated by sin, not Church teaching.

It also should be noted that as the Holy See is accused of hair-splitting on issues of jurisdiction, folks in Geneva ought to consider jurisdictional issues themselves. First, there is the question of just what torture is — and no one being honest can accuse the Holy See of this. Secondly, where exactly does this committee – or any committee of the United Nations – have jurisdiction over The Catechism of the Catholic Church? As two committees now veer into discussions on Church teaching on sexual morality, this is what it is coming down to: An insistence that Church teaching change.

One other thing: That Reuters story I just linked to ends thus:

Last February, a UN committee on the rights of the child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes. The Vatican called the report unfair and ideologically slanted.

That isn’t a mere accusation, but a fact: That report was ideologically slanted. It insisted that Church teaching on contraception and abortion put lives in danger. (This is a good primer.) It, like some reporting to the torture committee, simply opposes the voice of the Church in the public square. It doesn’t like its teaching and therefore wants it shut down. This is “The New Intolerance” we’ve seen lately.

One of the positive developments of recent months was the “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both” statement recently signed by a whole host of people who support same-sex marriage but who recognize that others don’t, not because we’re bigots but because we believe certain things about life and the human person and love and marriage which we can talk about based on reason and experience (and should be free to do so). It’s my hope that even at the U.N. we can have these discussions without campaigns to shut the less chic view down in the name of tolerance, going to frankly nonsensical and even tyrannical lengths (wanting to use the power of a treaty and an international body) to do so. 

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