UN Panel Asks Vatican to Violate Seal of Confession

News: World News
by Martin Barillas  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 6, 2021   

Human rights 'experts' scold Church for alleged sex crimes, cover-ups

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GENEVA (ChurchMilitant.com) - International leaders are decrying the secrecy of the confessional — essential to saving souls from sin.

Four so-called human rights experts drafted a letter that calls on the Catholic Church to cooperate with the United Nations to end sexual abuse and violence against children. In their missive, the "experts" petition for an end to the inviolability of the sacrament of Confession.

Released June 21 but dated April 7, the letter claimed the Church had used its protocols "to protect alleged abusers, cover up crimes, obstruct accountability of alleged abusers and evade reparations due to victims."

The correspondence claimed alleged crimes against children had been committed over the course of several decades in a number of countries and had involved thousands of victims.

"We note with great concern the apparent pervasiveness of child-sexual-abuse cases and the apparent systematic practice of covering up and obstructing the accountability of alleged abusers belonging to the Catholic Church," the international panel wrote.

Cover-ups Cited

The letter listed instances wherein priests and religious had been accused and/or convicted of sex crimes against children and minors or had engaged in cover-ups. Notable among the misdeeds mentioned were accusations of rape and mistreatment of Native American children by clerics in schools and orphanages subsidized by the Canadian government and operated by Church authorities.


The "unmarked" graves

(Photo: Cowessess First Nation)

In late May, graves of some 200 Native American children were discovered at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, prompting some to decry what they labeled a "genocide" and "crime scene." Others say the media is pushing an anti-Catholic, "unmarked mass grave" narrative that's already being countered by a historian. He contends they are likely pauper's graves for children who died from natural causes over many years and whose burial markers wore away over time.

At least one member of Parliament has called for severing Canada's diplomatic ties with the Vatican if no apology emerges for the mistreatment of children in Church institutions.

Also mentioned was the notorious case of deaf children sexually abused by clerics and religious of the Provolo Institute in Argentina. In that case, lawyers for the Church successfully argued that a 1966 concordat between the Holy See and Argentina protected the Church from releasing to civil authorities the canonical records of abuses.

The U.N. panel complained the concordats and agreements reached by the Holy See with U.N. member states "limit the ability of the civil authority to compel the production of documents or prosecute people associated with the Catholic Church."

The panel wrote:

We urge the authorities of the Holy See to refrain from obstructive practices and to cooperate fully with the civil, judicial and law-enforcement authorities of the countries concerned, as well as to refrain from signing or using existing agreements to evade accountability for Church members accused of abuse.

The panel works under the authority of the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. The current human rights commissioner is Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile and inveterate promoter of abortion and contraception.

When the letter was released, a Vatican official weighed in anonymously, telling Catholic News Agency the document has "no real teeth."

The Seal of Confession

The panel called for eliminating the inviolability of the seal of confession, "which prevents priests who hear a confession from reporting crimes to civil authorities." According to §1467 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the "sacramental seal," because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains "sealed" by the sacrament.

Confession of sins — which entails the reception of forgiveness and sanctifying grace from Christ — is a sacrament that was instituted when Jesus said to His Apostles, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:23).


A confession lasts from when the pentitent says, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned" until the priest says "Go in peace." Anything said between these bookends is bound by the seal.

Some see attempts to reveal confession details as an attack on the priesthood — because priests who break the seal excommunicate themselves — and an attack on the penitent, whose eternal salvation relies on his willingness to accuse himself of sins of all magnitude, including crimes, in order to receive Christ's forgiveness through the priest. Fear of prosecution could keep the penitent away from the confessional.

Pushing for New Rules

The letter welcomed "new rules established by the Holy See" that address sexual abuse. These rules:

  • Abolish papal secrecy in cases of sexual abuse
  • Demand the reporting of such abuses to superiors of the clergy and Vatican prosecutors
  • Allow the reporting of these cases and the presentation of documents to civil authorities in the jurisdictions concerned

"We regret, however, that the request to report crimes to the civil authorities is not yet compulsory, and we urge the government of Your Excellence to consider making this request compulsory as soon as possible," the letter stated.

The signatories alleged that "members of the Church" have undercut efforts by lawmakers in various countries to prosecute child sex offenders. They lamented how the Vatican's criminal court has only recently undertaken its first prosecutions for sexual abuse and cover-up at a Vatican seminary.

The letter concluded:

We urge members of the Catholic Church to refrain from implementing practices that reduce the victims' access to justice for violations they have suffered. We urge the relevant authorities to criminally prosecute all alleged cases of child sexual abuse and/or cover-up, thereby sending a clear signal to all members of the Catholic Church that such violations will never again be tolerated.

Referring to international agreements on human rights, they called on member states to ensure truth, justice, reparation for crimes and guarantees of non-repetition of grave human rights violations.

Practical Considerations

The letter called for a blurring of the distinction between the Holy See and the Vatican city-state.

Sometimes known as the Vatican, the Vatican city-state, within the city of Rome, is a distinct territory, which, according to the Lateran Treaty of 1929, is under the "full ownership, exclusive dominion and sovereign authority and jurisdiction" of the Holy See. The Holy See, in turn, is a sovereign entity of international law that safeguards the spiritual, temporal and diplomatic independence of the Vatican city-state.


Fabián Salvioli, Mama Fatima Singhateh,
Nils Melzer and Gerard Quinn

The Holy See or See of Rome has jurisdiction not only over the environs of the Vatican city-state, but also has, through the pope, spiritual authority over the diocese of Rome and universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the worldwide Catholic Church. It is to the Vatican city-state that ambassadors of civil governments are accredited as diplomats.

The quasi-independent human rights panel works under various mandates of the United Nations–backed Human Rights Council, but does not work directly for the world body, even though it receives some support from the human rights office.

Each of the "expert" signatories of the letter is a designated special rapporteur on specific geographic or thematic areas. The signatories include Fabián Salvioli of Argentina, Mama Fatima Singhateh of Gambia, Nils Melzer of Switzerland, and Gerard Quinn of Ireland. Salvioli was among prominent Argentines who advocated for eliminating Argentina's abortion restrictions in 2020. Quinn has served on advisory boards of the Open Society Foundations, which is funded by anti-Christian globalist billionaire George Soros.

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