Has the Catholic Church done enough to address sexual abuse by clergy?

A United Nations panel has sharply critiqued how the Vatican responded to widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests, which the Vatican calls distorted and unfair. Rev. Thomas Rosica of the Catholic Salt and Light Television Network and Katherine Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights join Gwen Ifill to offer different views on the report.

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    The Vatican has long been criticized for its handling of sexual abuse cases, but today's report from a United Nations panel was especially harsh.

    The Committee on the Rights of the Child said the Vatican had not adequately acknowledged past crimes, and cultivated a code of silence that provided immunity for perpetrators. The Vatican calls the report distorted and unfair, in that it ignores corrective actions taken by the church.

    Here to flesh out those arguments are Reverend Thomas Rosica, chief executive officer of Canada's Catholic Salt and Light Television Network and an English-language spokesperson for the Vatican, and Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney at the center for constitutional rights.

    Reverend Rosica, how does this report, in your opinion, differ from what we have heard before?

    REV. THOMAS ROSICA, Catholic Salt and Light Television Network: First of all, let me address the question of sex abuse, and that this report has a central mission to address that.

    It is criminal. It is evil, and the church is doing everything possible to address the issue, particularly since 2001, when all of this exploded in Boston and other places in the United States. What I find disturbing about the report, basically three areas. It's a great deal of ignorance that the committee reveals in the report, first of all, ignorance of what the church has already done, and what the church is doing, especially under the pontificate of Pope Benedict, and now under Pope Francis.

    Secondly, there is gross mis-ignorance — gross ignorance, I should say, of the understanding of the reality of the church. How is the church structured? One could read the report and get the impression that the church is this huge monolithic structure, the headquarters, if you will, dictating to all the branch offices.

    That's not the reality of the church. And a very serious point of the report is its ability to meddle in the internal life of the church, in the basic tenets of our faith, what some would call the doctrinal issues. And the report is contradictory in a couple areas.

    My first reaction in reading this really calls into question the United Nations and some of its committees, which really are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals in many regards. They're fueled by special interest groups. And by focusing on so many different things, they're doing a great injustice to the victims of sexual abuse and to the efforts that the church has taken to address this crisis.


    Well, Katherine Gallagher, that gives you a lot to chew on.

    What is your thought about — and is there anything especially significant that an international body weighed in like this?

    KATHERINE GALLAGHER, Center for Constitutional Rights: Well, we see today is quite a historic day.

    We at CCR represent of Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests. And for survivors who have been working for decades to bring to global attention the scope and scale and the severity of sexual violence against children, we are very gratified by the U.N.'s report today. It's notable that the U.N. calls out not just the perpetrators, the individual perpetrators, but also the higher-level officials whose own practices and policies have enabled the continuation of sexual violence by covering up instances of violence — violence, by requiring confidentiality, by shifting priests from one jurisdiction to another without any warning, where they again commit more acts of sexual assault.

    So we see today's report, which recognizes that the Catholic Church, the Vatican puts its reputation over the safety of children, as a very, very welcome report.


    Reverend Rosica, let me just walk you through a couple of things, as you pointed out, the doctrinal issues which the report brought up which were not about sexual abuse necessarily, the use of the term illegitimate children, the destigmatization it called for of homosexuality, the call on the church to assess the children born of priests, corporal punishment, abortion.

    Is that what you are talking about when you say that the U.N. went too far?


    The U.N. went over the top and went too far.

    The purpose of this was to call attention very specifically to the protection of children and the efforts that have been taken by the church in this regard. I believe that the church has been in the vanguard of dealing with this issue, much more than other institutions in society that have ignored it.

    That being said, I agree with Ms. Gallagher, Katherine Gallagher, who is with me. The church has had an evil. It's had a crisis. It's had a plague. There have been all of those things that you have mentioned of cover-up, of moving people around, of doing all kinds of things to obfuscate the reality.

    And, yes, we have been interested in preserving the reputation of the institution, rather than the individual victims. That has taken place, without a doubt. And we are grievously sorry for that, and we pledge to make sure that never happens again.

    That being said, let the report acknowledge the information that was presented at the hearings on January the 16th in Geneva. Let the report at least acknowledge the efforts that we have taken, whereas many others in society have done nothing about this. Some of the greatest issues of sexual abuse of minors, the so-called pedophilia issues and ephebophilia, take place in families.


    Let me ask Katherine Gallagher about that …


    … report.


    Sorry to interrupt.

    Let me ask Katherine Gallagher about that.

    Has the church gone far enough in taking action, and short of scolding bishops for having participated in a cover-up?


    No, clearly, the church has not.

    And I was in Geneva when the committee was questioning the Vatican, and its growing frustration over the course of that day when it was hearing vague words, rather than clear actions that the Catholic Church has taken. And what the committee has asked for is actions that show accountability.

    It has asked for cooperation with law enforcement at the national level, rather than hiding away priest priests and files. It asked for data to be brought forward and to be shared. The Vatican refused to do so. So, I don't think that we have seen an institution at the vanguard of how to deal with sexual violence. Rather, we have seen a continuation.

    And the committee makes it clear that this is an ongoing problem, a continuation of the code of silence.


    Reverend Thomas Rosica, is there anything …


    Let me ask you the question.


    Go ahead. Finish. Go ahead.


    What authority does such a committee have that is so not credible in how they have proceeded with their efforts?

    I mean, does it have any jurisdiction or authority? Look at the very credibility of the United Nations and of such committees who seem to set themselves up as some kind of a watchdog over areas for which they don't even have the proper historical background.


    If I …


    And so I call into question not the serious issue of sexual abuse, but the methodology that was used, and how it was certainly fueled by some special interest groups, which produced a very distorted report.

    That's my concern, because I believe that the United Nations, at its best, could serve as something calling us all to greater integrity, to justice and to peace.


    Ms. Gallagher, final thought.


    Yes, thank you.

    The Holy See voluntarily signed on as a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. And that convention has a number of provisions, including placing the best interests of the child at the forefront. So the Vatican has taken upon itself the obligations to protect and safeguard children, to treat them with respect and with dignity.

    And so it was very much within the committee's purview to say that, we find, Vatican, that you have not been doing what you have pledged to do as a signatory to this convention.


    Katherine Gallagher and Father Thomas Rosica, thank you both so much.

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