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The Church and the U.N., Again Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 02 May 2014

The Holy See is in the U.N. dock again next week. This time it’s the U.N. Committee on Torture, and it will not be pretty.

Remember last time? A few months ago the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child told the Holy See that the Church must change its teachings on foundational moral issues like abortion, contraception, adolescent sexuality, and marriage. That outrage only arose among the usual suspects, that is, from the likes of you and me, means the Committee on Torture can be expected to follow suit.

The U.N. Convention against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was accepted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1984 and came into force three years later. As of today, 155 governments have ratified the treaty including Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Holy See signed the treaty in 2002.

The Convention is quite a good thing. It defines torture as:

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. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

The convention asserts there are no exceptions to the prohibition on torture including war, public emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, or any kind of armed conflict. Signatories agree to enact such prohibitions into their domestic law, to enforce the treaty within all territories under their jurisdiction, to extradite transgressors – and  universal jurisdiction when extradition is not possible.

You can see how the Church would be very simpatico, even enthusiastic, about this. And you can see how the Church, at least the post-Inquisition Church, would be quite good in not violating the treaty. But you would be wrong.

Governments that sign the treaty have to appear before the monitoring body every few years to explain how they are implementing the treaty. The treaty monitoring bodies are made of experts nominated by their own countries. But when they serve on the committee they represent only themselves and not their country of origin. They are totally free agents. And it shows.

V.   

Here’s what’s gong to happen to the Holy See at the hands of this committee. The Church will be directed to change its teaching on abortion. The Church will be charged with violating the treaty for allowing sex abuse of minors, even beyond the 100 acres of Vatican City, indeed wherever a child has been abused by a Catholic priest. The committee will probably opine on sexual orientation and gender identity. But are any of these things really in the treaty against torture? Well, no.

Years ago powerful U.N. actors, including the heads of all the existing treaty monitoring bodies and the heads of the big U.N. agencies like UNICEF, met at Glen Cove, New York and hatched a plan to spread the gospel of the pelvic left across all the human rights treaties of the U.N., even where such things like abortion are not mentioned. By the way, abortion is not mentioned in any of these treaties. None. Yet, virtually all of the treaty-monitoring bodies routinely tell states they must legalize abortion – and much else.

The Committee on Torture has told Ireland, Poland, Nicaragua, and Bolivia that prohibitions on abortion for disability, rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother are considered torture under the treaty. The committee has quizzed our officials on the torture of homosexuals in the United States.

Does this really matter? Do the statements of the committees have an effect? They mean a lot to leftwing law professors, certainly, and to leftwing judges and parliamentarians. In fact, the statements of the treaty-monitoring bodies are said by many of them to create new binding norms. And some courts and parliaments have begun to agree. Bolivia’s high court changed that nation’s laws on abortion from reading the concluding observations of the Committee on Torture.

What will happen next week? The committee will grill the Vatican next week. It will likely show little respect for Vatican representatives. Archbishops may even be called “Mr.” and the Church referred to as “your organization.”  The Committee will not listen – really listen -- to Holy See representatives, but the grilling will go on for hours. The final report will be issued some weeks later though it is probably already written and was probably written by some leftwing NGO with a particular hatred for the Church.

The press will have a field day explaining to us all that the Church is in violation of a yet another human rights treaty. and few people will really understand what has happened.

What should the Church do? The Church should take Her lumps in this new process. She should have a well-considered public relations strategy to respond to the report, and she should every opportunity to explain how these so-called human-rights bodies harm genuine human rights.

Then she should wait a few years and quietly withdraw from every single U.N. treaty. And She should explain why: because these committees are going far beyond their mandate and in doing so are harming genuine human rights. The Church wants no part of that.

The Church invented human rights after all and ought to take these biased pipsqueaks to school.

 
Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
 
 
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Comments (16)Add Comment
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, May 02, 2014
Actually, this raises one of the most intractable philosophical questions of our times, namely, the meaning of “meaning.”: At its most basic, how comes it that some things (physical things, like ink marks on a page, sound waves in succession or even the spatial arrangements of blocks of wood that are used in court to represent vehicles in an accident) can be propositional signs that represent or stand for other physical facts (or possible facts or states of affairs)? The relationship between a word and its “meaning” is not a (physical) fact or relationship. Surely, “meaning” can only be a projective act of the will. Yes, but whose will? Who controls the “meaning” of a text?
This has implications far beyond the text of international treaties. Most of the debates within the Church, leading up to Lamentabil and Pascendi (1907) and since have turned on this question.
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written by Dave, May 02, 2014
Yes, the Church invented human rights: they, and precepts of international law, were developed first at the University of Salamanca, in response to Spanish contact with the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Untether human rights from their foundation in the doctrine of the imago Dei, as the UN does, and all hell breaks loose.
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written by schm0e, May 02, 2014
Ah, but abortion IS quite fully covered under the general definition of "torture".

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written by Myshkin, May 02, 2014
Withdraw from UN treaties. Agreed. But why delay? Make a statement along the lines of this post, then simply withdraw from the treaties. Why should the Holy Church of God "take its lumps" for illegitimate charges which reflect only evil intent? Better to confront them and let everyone know that the Roman Catholic Church has spiritual authority even over the UN.
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written by Karen, May 02, 2014
The Church needs to have a strategy that puts her on the offense rather than a defensive response to this modern day inquisition.
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written by Beth, May 02, 2014
WHY did the Holy See sign on to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in the first place?
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written by Chris in Maryland, May 02, 2014
Karen:

Perfectly stated.
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written by Jim, May 02, 2014
a few weeks ago, the NY Times article on Archbishop Gregory called him Mr. Gregory.
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written by Jack,CT, May 02, 2014
Great Article Austin, Happy Easter season to you and
Yours and welcome back to the conversation.
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written by Paul, May 02, 2014
I'm surprised the HRCC would be this involved with the U.N. or any other similar organization, considering the Biblical warnings of the coming one world government.
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written by Stan J, May 04, 2014
The Church wanted no part of the UN until the two recently canonized "popes" elected to affiliate themselves with it. The father of Vatican II was the first to suggest recognition of the UN then the one who condoned the establishment of altar girls and liturgical dancers acquiesced to the UN's dictates.
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written by Paul Frantizek, May 05, 2014
The Church really ought to know better by now than to engage with the secularists at the UN. Nothing good can come from it.
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written by Patrick L., May 05, 2014
Please explain the whole notion that the "church" invented human rights, there is something terribly wrong with that idea.
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written by mike flynn, May 05, 2014
Many good reasons for Vatican to exit UN, or its treaties. ONE important reason to stay: evil must be engaged, not ignored, if there is any chance of saving the misguided. It is a losing proposition as far as most of us can see. ( I am pretty sure I personally could not endure such an onslaught of evil) Disengaging is capitulation. Hopefully Vatican reps in UN are not sucked into the abyss. They need our prayers.
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written by mnemos, May 05, 2014
@Patrick L - look into the school of Salamanaca for the first expressions of the idea of "human rights".
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written by Mike M, May 07, 2014
The Committee on Torture is hardly a threat to the Church with this. Unfortunately, it IS a threat to respect for human dignity around the world. By expanding the definition of "torture" to anything that they happen to find disagreeable, they render it, and their opinions, meaningless, which will make it somewhat more difficult to address real torture when it occurs.

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