I just finished reading the U.N. Committee on Torture’s concluding observations on the ongoing conversation with the Holy See released this morning. You may recall that two issues came up there earlier this month: Some suggested that the sexual abuse of minors — a clear violation of Catholic Church teaching, the antithesis of the Gospel of Christ — was akin to state-sponsored torture and that the Gospel of Life the Church teaches is one that amounted to torture against women who might not get an abortion because of those teachings. Mercifully, someone on the committee clearly saw this as the ridiculously dangerous overreach it was.
Today’s report acknowledges much of the work the Church has done to protect children in the wake of the scandals in the U.S. and throughout the world. Among other things, the concluding observations do raise some specific questions around the world that suggest a continuing misunderstanding of canon law; the pope doesn’t actually administratively run St. Michael’s School around the corner in your neighborhood (though the school around the corner in the U.S. is a bad example, asCatholic schools in the United States are about the safest place for a child in the world) — and that have nothing to do with a United Nations committee on torture. But all things considered, this exercise ends better than it could have: the worry was that the committee would make strides in redefining torture, led by ideologues looking to drown out the voice of the Church — and all religion, really — in the public square.
The upside of this exercise is that anyone even mildly paying attention has to see that the Church is not an adversary to anyone at the United Nations opposed to torture or the welfare of children. And while the concluding observations mercifully don’t go here, because of the overreach throughout this episode, I’ll add this: Anyone paying attention might see that the Catholic Church is the leading charitable organization in the world. And when the faithful live lives conformed to the Gospel, this does a world of good and is something to welcome for the sake of flourishing societies (and yes, even for intergovernmental agencies). It is also worth noting that our contemporary, Saint John Paul II, issued an encyclical on The Gospel of Life that largely enjoyed an ecumenical embrace for good reason: It proposes a culture that embraces life and brings us out of the misery of a culture of death. Taken seriously, it gives us a shot at some healing and an exit from the culture of death that is promoted by the radical secularists. These are the same individuals who suggest that the Catholic Church could ever be committing torture a) for the evils done by priests largely in the ’60s and ’70s (and an administrative culture that didn’t help matters that is now largely foreign today) and b) for working — and showing up to help with maternity homes and material and spiritual and practical support — to protect the dignity of human life always.
This report today quotes Pope Francis saying: “We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger.” That should be the attitude of anyone running any institution where children and any of our innocence or vulnerable brothers and sisters will walk: Never take a step backward in protecting them and helping them flourish. And the common good might benefit if institutions like the United Nations who have had their own problems with evil done to children by peacekeepers would consider looking to the Catholic Church for what to do to eradicate kind of abuse of children — and attacks on human life and dignity.
The U.N. Committee on Torture this morning acknowledged what people who have been paying attention have known for a while: The Catholic Church has turned a page of transparency, a culture that the pope is working and praying his way through in radical ways at the highest bureaucratic levels.
We’re living at a time where many Catholics are reconsidering what it means to be such, and taking a renewed serious look at the Gospels with honesty and authenticity. We have in many ways internalized the radical secularism that led to some of the attacks on the Church that came through the Committee on Torture. But practical atheism on the part of professed believers does no one any good.
You saw a righteous pushback at the United Nations in Geneva by the Holy See (and by groups including Catholic Voices USA, with which I’m involved) against some dangerously radical secularist ideological claims. And people of good will should give thanks.
For more background on this Committee on Torture episode you might read my interview with historian and law professor Ron Rychlak, or the Catholic Voices USA report filed for the committee on “The Insatiable New Intolerance” that drove some of the proceedings at the U.N.
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