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The Church and the U.N., Again

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.

Holy See vs United Nations

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 Center for Family & Human Rights (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.