The Battle of the Scandals, pt 1: The Nation-State

There have been a number of things about the recent UN committee report on (and the global response to) the Vatican’s role in clergy sex abuse that have given me pause.

The first issue has been the one to which Vatican and global Catholic officials have clung : The report’s inclusion of language about the church’s teachings on homosexuality and abortion.

State or Faith: You decide
State or Faith: You decide

The church struck back hard, saying that the Vatican UN was “trampling on religious freedom.”

Even I had some issues with it. When I was asked for a comment by CNN International, I declined, saying that the focus of victims is clergy sexual abuse. And, really, it is. It is not the victims’ movement’s place to comment on other issues, because victims come from all beliefs. But personally, I believed that the committee had overstepped.

But late last night, it dawned on me: I’m wrong.

As far as the UN is concerned, the Code of Canon Law is not a religious document. It’s a constitution. The church’s teachings about abortion, homosexuality, etc., aren’t religious views—THEY ARE THE LAWS OF A NATION-STATE.

I was clouding my views on the report with American thinking about religious freedom. And that’s exactly what the Vatican wants.

If the Vatican is going to scream “religious rights,” they should not be a nation-state, immune from civil liability. If they truly want to continue to reap the rewards and benefits of their nation-state status, they should openly state, “Yes, these are our laws” and not claim “religious persecution.”

But they aren’t.

Instead, they are (oddly) trumpeting typical Western values of religious freedom … while at the same time decrying Western values for taking the world off of the track of moral righteousness. You can’t cherry-pick teachings on Western values to help you escape prosecution or taxation.

You’re either a state or a religious faith.

The Vatican can’t have it both ways.


5 thoughts on “The Battle of the Scandals, pt 1: The Nation-State

  1. Thank you Joelle for showing how the Church straddles two positions, using either one as needed. Their problem now is that we are on to them.


    The Roman Catholic Church did next to nothing to stop certain sexual abusing clergy who were preying on the most innocent of our faithful other than to move them from one location to another and put other children and young adults at risk, some of whom became additional victims of the most evil, criminal and life-destroying conduct and behavior that man is capable of on this earth. This occurred in towns, neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries around the globe and to this day, not a single religious leader, cardinal or bishop, has been held accountable for his failure to stop the physical and psychological carnage that was perpetrated on the victims and their families.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (Retired)
    Philadelphia Police Dept.

  3. AMEN TO THAT! I agree totally because GOD ‘S WORD DOES NOT CONDEMN anyone ..We are all sinners that CHRIST DIED FOR.! Why they think they can.tell people what to do and what to think is beyond exasperating and. arrogant !!

    But that’s who and what they think they are and they should be prosecuted for their wroing interpretation of. our Laws. Protecting Children and vulnerable innocents…..

  4. Joelle, the UN Committee only addressed issues that arise properly under a treaty the Vatican signed voluntarily. All of the issues addressed have significant implications for children and were rightly addressed in the Committee Report. The Vatican created a PR strawman that said only clerical child abuse issues could be addressed. As an international lawyer, I assure you that view is nonsense. The Vatican tried to make the Committee the bad guy, instead of addressing the findings against itself. A typically evasive tactic.

    The UN Committee only has moral clout–no enforcement powers. Unless and until major nations compel the Vatican to address these issues by holding bishops criminally legally accountable, the Vatican will continue to flaunt the law and evade responsibility to survivors. The survivors lawsuits will not and never could be enough. The Vatican can afford to settle all these lawsuits. For the Vatican, this is merely a routine cost of doing business at this point. Locking up bishops is the only effective solution.

    President Obama must read the riot act to Pope Francis when they meet on March 27. It is time for Obama to get tough for US children and it is also time for advocacy groups, including SNAP, to demand that Obama does so loudly and often. The current strategy apparently overseen by survivors’ lawyers, seeking seemingly mainly to generate private contingent fee clients, will never be enough–these lawyers have an inherent conflict of interest. The current strategy benefits a small percentage of survivors and their lawyers and their associates and by this point has diminishing returns as a deterrent to future abuse. The Vatican cannot be shamed or bankrupted into changing. That is quite clear by now.

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