Thursday, February 6, 2014

The UN vs. The Holy See: Who Has Moral Authority?

Welcome back, Coffee Talkers!

It seems that all eyes are on the Catholic Church, and on Pope Francis in particular. As the media tracks his every move and (mis)reports his every word, there seems to be a keen interest in both secular and religious communities to see if and how Francis will set a moral compass for the world. And while his teachings and activities are no departure from his predecessors, his sky-rocket to star status in less than a year of papal reign is notable. Already named person of the year by Time, The Advocate, and GQ, the only cover left un-Poped was, until recently, Rolling Stone. I was gearing up to read my first Rolling Stone article, until a few paragraphs into the nearly 8,000 words of half-truths, gross mis-characterizations, and crude ad hominem attacks on Benedict XVI, I realized that, as Kimberly "Sweet Brown" Wilson so sagely explained, "Ain't nobody got time for that." Clearly, just because people see Pope Francis as a rock star doesn't mean that they 'get' Catholicism or regard the Church as having any kind of moral authority.

Thankfully, I was able to find some other interesting reading in the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child's 16-page lambast of the Holy See. While the UN report was certainly more interesting than the so-called article from Rolling Stone, it seems to have been based on a surprisingly similar lack of factual information about the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. 

Since the UN Committee's concluding observations open by chiding the Holy See for their previously delayed response of approximately fourteen years, I've decided to help the UN out by offering some initial insights right away, at least a decade sooner than they expect to receive a formal response from the Vatican. I will reply to a few key points from the document.

1. The Convention recommends, in a variety of ways that the Holy See (a.k.a. the Vatican) make a full review of all Canon (or Church) Law, with the goal of ensuring that it is in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I'm not sure how to break this to the Committee. I mean, the Vatican did get back to them (albeit 14 years late) the last time they were in touch, but they may not be on the top of their list of priorities. More importantly, last I checked, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was in no way nor at any time mentioned or cited in the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or in any other official Church documents. To put it simply, the Holy See does not consult a UN convention for the soundness of the Church's internal laws of governance.

2. The Convention is very concerned with the rights of the child, the reporting of abuse, and the prevention of any further incidents. To this end, they make numerous recommendations to the Holy See regarding the implementation of rules, policies, and programs that would raise awareness, mandate reporting, and educate children, volunteers, employees, seminarians, and religious in appropriate policies and practices.

All of this has been going on, in a thorough and systematic way, for the past decade within the Catholic Church. Honestly, these recommendations were the most absurd to me, because it genuinely seems as though no one on the committee actually took the time to see the extensive work that Church has done in this regard. The work is far from done, I freely admit, but every one of the recommendations in this area has not only been met, but far exceeded, in Catholic schools, parishes, dioceses, and other Catholic organizations throughout the world.

3. "The Committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality." The Committee also "urges" the Holy See to change our Canon Law to permit abortion services for pregnant girls who are at risk.

First, let's take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where it's teaching on homosexual persons clearly states that "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (CCC 2358). Again, did anyone on the committee actually consult the Church's teaching before asking them to change it?

Next, it seems particularly twisted that the committee on the rights of the child did not at all mention the rights of the pre-born child in the womb but only of the young pregnant girls (whose abortions are often performed under duress with no consideration of rights of the pregnant girl nor the pre-born child), but in any case let me explain that it will be a cold day somewhere south of Rome before the Vatican changes any doctrines or canons based solely on the recommendations of a UN committee, and certainly not on abortion. The Church does have bioethical norms that explain what might happen in the dangerous case of an ectopic pregnancy, for example, but I fear this may be too much to explain to a committee who apparently cannot even look up simple citations from the Catechism.

Lastly, and most remarkably, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child just appealed to "the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority." Read it again. It's really the most amazing part of the whole document wherein the UN Committee, after just having spent many pages criticizing the law, doctrines, and practices of the Catholic Church and urging them to come into alignment with the UN's own policies and practices, admits that the Holy See has moral authority. 


I’ll be anxious to hear what Pope Francis has to say about the document as well, and while it might make the cover of a popular magazine, I think I’ll wait to read his actual words and see what moral direction he, and the Holy See, have to offer.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

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