The Vatican's scheduled May appearance before a United Nations committee monitoring adherence to an anti-torture treaty is being done willingly and not because church officials were ordered to appear for questioning, the Vatican spokesman said.
Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that as a signatory of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Vatican promised to file periodic reports about its laws and efforts to fight torture.
Along with representatives of seven other states, Vatican representatives are scheduled to review the periodic report with committee members May 5-6 in Geneva.
"This is part of the ordinary procedures to which all state parties to the convention adhere," Lombardi said. "It is not that the Holy See was convoked in a way outside the normal procedures."
In addition, he said, the treaty was signed in 2002 "in the name of Vatican City State -- not for the universal church -- because the convention has juridical characteristics" that apply to a geographical nation-state.
The U.N. committee's questions to the Vatican representatives "must take into account the nature of the convention, its text and the fact that it regards Vatican City State," and not the worldwide church, he said.
The U.N. committee tentatively scheduled a May 2 session for nongovernmental organizations wanting to discuss the Holy See's position. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, representing SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, filed a report with the committee stating that "rape and other forms of sexual violence are recognized as torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and the Vatican has fallen woefully short of its obligation to prevent and protect against these crimes" in the way it has handled the clerical sex abuse scandal.
In a statement Monday, SNAP said it hoped the U.N. committee would "call out Catholic officials for saying one thing and doing another, and for putting children in harm's way time and time and time again, not just in years past, but today as well."
SNAP said it hoped the committee would be as tough on the Vatican as the U.N. committee monitoring adherence to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child was after Vatican representatives took part in the normal review process in mid-January. The committee said the Vatican was not doing enough to prevent clerical sexual abuse of children and even suggested that, for the good of children, the Catholic church change its teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
The Vatican's report to the committee against torture focused on the laws and policies of Vatican City State regarding crime and punishment, but also mentioned the work of Vatican representatives and the Vatican media to educate people around the world about the sacredness of human life and the immorality of torture.
"The Holy See notes that 'in times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the pastors of the church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture,' " the report said, quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Continuing to quote from the catechism, the report said, "Regrettable as these facts are, the church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person."
The Holy See condemns torture and "other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which may not amount to torture but are equally contrary to the inherent dignity of the human person and his or her integrity and identity. They include the death penalty, in cases where bloodless means are available to protect public order and the safety of persons; subhuman living conditions in prisons (e.g. overcrowding, etc.); arbitrary imprisonment, detention or deportation," the report said.