Stuck on Torture

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Reading the AP coverage this morning of the ongoing hearings in Geneva regarding the Vatican and torture, the story this morning explains that the Holy See yesterday provided some additional information on what’s happened in the last 12 years — the culture change within the Church to zero-tolerance, where, frankly, priests are considered guilty until proven innocent when allegations are brought up against them. It’s a culture of transparency and independent audits, vetting and vigilance. (Ed Mechmann has a good briefing on the “real story” here, if you haven’t read it already). 

The AP notes this but then immediately charges:

But significantly, he didn’t dispute the committee’s contention that sexual violence against children can be considered torture. Legal experts have said that classifying sexual abuse as torture could expose the Catholic Church to a new wave of lawsuits since torture cases in much of the world don’t carry statutes of limitations.

What it leaves out is that after initial testimony from the Holy See and outside groups, more numbers in regard to what’s new in the Church, what is being done differently, how the procedures regarding abuse and initial accusations have changed dramatically, were requested. (See excerpts here.) The new culture was news to some on the committee. How is it that John Hopkins’ Paul McHugh has commented that “Nobody is doing more to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church”? As it was described to me, this sounded like good news, forward-looking news, news that could advance the common good. And the Holy See responded with facts to better give a snapshot of this current reality.

Perhaps we all assumed, too, that once the members of the committee looked at the definition of torture, they’d realize they were being coaxed into abuse of power by even entertaining this ludicrous spectacle. There is a torturous pain that surrounds sexual abuse — and most especially of children — and abortion — another most intimate violence, which ends lives and wrecks bodies and souls and relationships. It’s also one that the Catholic Church — and the nation-state of the Holy See — doesn’t promote but works to eradicate.

Since the 1990s’ exposure of the scandals in the United States, the Church, particularly but not exclusively in the United States, has become a model so many in the world could afford to learn from. Men who betrayed a literally sacred trust were not following the precepts of the Catholic Church when they did so. That’s why, in the wake of the evil, George Weigel encouraged Catholics to have the courage to be Catholic. This evil wasn’t Catholicism.

Additionally, as Marie Collins, perhaps the most well-known abuse victim in the world – currently an adviser to Pope Francis — said over the weekend: such horrific abuse is “an entirely different thing, a separate matter altogether from state-sponsored torture.”

Perhaps, too, the Holy See is more concerned about protecting and uplifting human dignity than playing this ideological game the U.N. torture committee is currently entertaining.

(Full disclosure: I’m a founder of Catholic Voices USA, which has had a representative testify at the hearings in Geneva.)