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Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a crime and no organization can become complacent about addressing it. The Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem and it will continue to lead in doing so.
In the United States, the number of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy has plummeted. This is in no small part due to the fact that millions of Catholic children have been instructed on safe environments and tens of thousands of adults who work with them in the Church have gone through background checks and safe environment education. In 2012, for example, dioceses and religious institutes conducted background checks on 99 percent of clerics, 97 percent of educators, 95 percent of employees, and 96 percent of volunteers. Every diocese has a victim assistance coordinator who assists those who have been abused and a safe environment coordinator who works to prevent abuse from occurring again.
The Vatican also has shown resolve in addressing the issue. Pope John Paul II changed the age of maturity in Church law so more abuse cases could be prosecuted. Pope Benedict called on every bishops'conference in the world to develop policies. Pope Francis recently announced a commission to strengthen the Church's handling of sexual abuse.
A report from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Unfortunately the report is weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception. This seems to violate the U.N.'s obligation from its earliest days to defend religious freedom. In 1948, the organization adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declared that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." Certainly the U.N. charge to defend religious freedom includes defending the Church's right to determine its own teachings. Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to church. That's what happened last September when militants killed 81 people, including children, attending Sunday school at a Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child is correct to voice concern over sexual abuse and is to be commended for its efforts. It would have credibility, however, if it also worked to protect the most basic right of a child: the right to live. Would that it made headlines because of concern for minors being trafficked in the world's sex trade and children dying from starvation and dysentery from impure water. When the U.N. committee strays into the culture wars to promote abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage, it undermines its noble cause and trades concern for children to concern for organizations with other agendas. What a lost opportunity.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is Director of Media Relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.