Archbishop defends church teachings before U.N. panel, calls abortion ‘torture’ of unborn

McClatchy Foreign StaffMay 7, 2014 

— The Vatican’s representative to a United Nations panel probing the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of child sexual abuse on Tuesday equated abortion to torture and said the U.N. panel’s focus on the church’s teachings on the subject was inappropriate.

In response to questions by panel members over whether the church’s prohibition of abortion had led to violations of the U.N.’s Convention Against Torture, the Vatican representative, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said, “We consider the right to life as a non-negotiable.”

The Holy See does not consider abortion or abortion services to be a dimension of reproductive health, or reproductive health services, Tomasi noted. He argued abortions also amount to torture.

“The Holy See is in agreement with, and as directed by the convention itself, condemns torture, including for those who are tortured and killed before they are born,” he said.

Tomasi cited statistics from Canada, where he said 622 babies born alive after a failed abortion between 2002 and 2011 had been left to die. In 2005, he said, 66 babies suffered similar deaths in the United Kingdom.

“Such cruel methods of late abortions truly constitute torture, especially through the use of evacuation techniques, where the baby, still alive, is dismembered and than pulled out of the womb in pieces,” he said.

Tomasi’s testimony came as panel members cited cases where women and girls, some as young as nine, had undergone abortions to save their lives and then been subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment often at the hands of priests. Tomasi denied that any Vatican official had been involved in such cases.

Tomasi also revealed statistics on what actions the church had taken against priests who had sexually abused children.

He said that between 2004 and 2013, the church had dismissed 848 clerics and had disciplined 2,572, out of 3,420 credible cases examined. He said the pope himself, either the current one, Francis I, or his predecessor, Benedict XVI, had dismissed 340 priests since 2010 for engaging in child sexual abuse. That included 43 last year, 70 in 2012, 143 in 2011 and 84 in 2010.

“It’s clear the issue of sexual abuse of children which is a worldwide plague and scourge, has been addressed in the last ten years by the Church in a systematic, constructive, and effective way,” he said.

The submission of the detailed statistics came in the second day of a two-day session into whether the church’s treatment of child sexual abuse and its teachings on reproductive rights amount to torture or cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment.

The panel is slated to present its closing observations, and recommendations, on May 23.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story omitted full identification for the Vatican representative, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.

Zarocostas is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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