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Ex-Vatican diplomat: U.S., North Korea must return to negotiating table


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The United States and North Korea must return to the negotiating table and focus on improving the quality of life of their people rather than on the might of their advanced weaponry, said a former Vatican diplomat. Read more »

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Photo of the week: Syria’s children


Catholic News Service

Syrian children risk becoming ‘lost generation,’ Vatican official says

 VATICAN CITY — Without family, a legal identity and adequate education, children uprooted by the ongoing violence in Syria and the Middle East “are at risk of becoming a lost generation,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva.

Syrian refugee children at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan form the word "Syria" during an event to commemorate four years of the Syrian conflict, March 15. (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Syrian refugee children at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan form the word “Syria” during an event to commemorate four years of the Syrian conflict, March 15. (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

The archbishop noted that “children suffer the brutal consequences” of war and called for a “comprehensive system of protection for children” in these conflict zones.

“In camps throughout the Middle East, children constitute approximately half of the refugee population and they are the most vulnerable demographic group,” he said during a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council March 17.

Archbishop Tomasi noted the grave situation of these children: Many are separated from their families, live in poverty and have difficulty accessing basic services. In this defenseless state, some are recruited and trained as soldiers or used as human shields.

Islamic State militants have “worsened the situation by training and using children as suicide bombers, killing children who belong to different religious and ethnic communities, selling children as slaves in markets, executing large numbers of boys and committing other atrocities,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Tomasi underlined three issues regarding the protection of children in these conflict zones.

The first is the issue of stateless children, of whom there are millions worldwide, who “according to the law, were never born,” he said. According to U.N. estimates, about 30,000 stateless children are now living in Lebanon.

“Stateless children cross international borders alone and find themselves completely abandoned,” he said. Children below age 11 and “without documents” do not have access to basic services, cannot go to school and “are likely to be adopted illegally, recruited in an armed group, abused, exploited or forced into prostitution,” he said.

Furthermore, there are several thousand children “scattered in camps and other asylum countries” who have not been registered as refugees.

“These are ‘phantom kids’ whose parents have escaped from Syria but whose name and date of birth were never registered at any office,” the archbishop explained.

Child statelessness can be addressed by “simplifying mechanisms and requirements for registration, waiving fees (and) advocating for refugee inclusive registration legislation,” he suggested.

The second issue is the “urgent need for an education system” in refugee camps, especially since it is now clear the refugee situation is not temporary, as initially thought, he said. Currently, the teacher-student ratio in the camps is about 40-to-1,000 and only 50 percent of Syrian child refugees living in neighboring countries receive education, he said.

He cited statistics that about 5,000 schools in Syria were destroyed while others remain under attack, leaving 1.5 million children without schooling. Islamic State militants closed schools in areas under their control, he said.

The third issue is that the “generalized violence” leads to the breakdown of families, forcing “many minors to fend for themselves,” he said.

“An additional effort should be made to facilitate the reunification of minors with their respective families,” the archbishop urged. He emphasized that peace in the region is “the priority for healthy growth of all children.”

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic reports more than 10 million Syrians, almost half of the country’s population, are displaced and more than 3 million Syrians are refugees in neighboring countries.


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Vatican representative urges all nations to abolish death penalty


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church firmly opposes the death penalty and urges all states to move toward its abolition, said the Vatican’s permanent observer to United Nations agencies in Geneva.

“My delegation contends that bloodless means of defending the common good and upholding justice are possible and calls on states to adapt their penal system to demonstrate their adhesion to a more humane form of punishment,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told the U.N. Human Rights Council March 4 during a discussion on the death penalty.

The archbishop said the Vatican “fully supports the efforts to abolish” the death penalty and suggested two steps to reach this goal. The first is to “sustain the social reforms that would enable society to implement the abolition of the death penalty, and the second is to improve prison conditions to ensure the human dignity of prisoners.”

Citing the past three pontificates, Archbishop Tomasi briefly explained church teaching on the issue, saying the “steady improvements in the organization of the penal system” in most states makes it “evident nowadays that means, other than the death penalty,” are sufficient to protect public safety against aggressors.

Countries working to change their penal law, both to respect prisoners’ human dignity and to protect public safety, “are moving in the right direction,” he said.

Archbishop Tomasi noted growing public opinion in favor of abolition, which he said the Vatican delegation hopes will “encourage states” to drop capital punishment.

In addition, he said, the death penalty has not worked to deter crime and its “irreversibility… does not allow for eventual corrections in the case of wrongful convictions.”

According to the United Nations, 160 countries have either abolished the death penalty or have enacted a moratorium. In the past six months, Chad, Fiji and Madagascar abolished the death penalty. While the trend is generally toward abolition, there were more state executions in 2013 than in 2012, and some states reintroduced it, the United Nations reported.

In the United States, the death penalty remains legal in 32 states. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the number of death sentences imposed in the U.S. has dropped in the past 10 years, from 138 to 72. Last fall, more than 3,000 inmates were on death row. In the first two months of 2015, eight inmates were executed in the U.S.; 35 inmates were executed last year.


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Vatican official at U.N. meeting urges family-unity priority for migrants


GENEVA — Migrant families whose members are often separated pose unique challenges as globalization sweeps the world and deserve special consideration so that family unity remains a priority, a Vatican official told a United Nations meeting.

Children in families in which one or both parents migrate long distances for employment as well as the elderly and spouses left at home must become a “high priority in any migration policy debate,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said Oct. 8 during the 2014 International Dialogue on Migration of the International Organization for Migration.

“They are particularly vulnerable and hence should receive special protection,” he told the delegates.

He called for transnational efforts that cross international borders so that the needs of migrant workers are not forgotten in a world built around economic growth. Migrants deserve great respect because of the service and positive economic and social contribution they offer in their host countries, the archbishop added.

While migrant workers provide greater financial resources to their families, money alone will not compensate for the loss of human affection, the presence to influence values, integrity and personal behavior, Archbishop Tomasi explained.

He said policies and programs affecting migrating workers in all nations should maximize the remittances workers send home, limit the negative effects of migration and emphasis family ties as a primary concern.

Immigration reform measures being considered in countries must involve forming “the legal framework that helps keep families together,” Archbishop Tomasi said.

“By allowing children to emigrate unaccompanied, further problems arise as they are exposed to lawlessness and despair,” he said. “The family structure, however, should be the place where hope, compassion, justice and mercy are taught most effectively. Family is the basic unit of coexistence, its foundation, and the ultimate remedy against social fragmentation.”

The archbishop also outlined several measures that would help maintain family unit. They included allowing migrants who are restricted or prevented from traveling home to care for elderly parents or care for children should be allowed occasional leaves and benefit from special prices for travel; lower interest fees for transferring remittances home; speedier processes for obtaining visas for a spouse or close family member; and a greater availability of ad hoc family counselors in areas with a high amount of migrant workers.

“States and civil society are prompted by their own future to give priority to the family and thus make migrations a more positive experience for all,” he said.



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Vatican officials address U.N. panel looking at abuse of children


VATICAN CITY — Testifying before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, a Vatican representative acknowledged the horror of clerical sexual abuse and insisted the Vatican was serious about protecting children.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said the church recognizes abuse of children as both a crime and sin, and the Vatican has been promoting policies that, “when properly applied, will help eliminate the occurrence of child sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel.”

The archbishop spoke in Geneva Jan. 16 during the committee’s annual session to review reports from states that signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Holy See signed the treaty in 1990.

“There is no excuse for any form of violence or exploitation of children,” the archbishop said. “Such crimes can never be justified, whether committed in the home, in schools, in community and sports programs, in religious organizations and structures.”

Pope Francis, in a homily at his early morning Mass the same day, spoke generally about the shame of the “many scandals” perpetrated by members of the church. Those who abuse and exploit others, he said, may wear a holy medal or a cross, but they have no “living relationship with God or with his word.”

Instead of giving others “the bread of life,” he said, they feed them poison.

Archbishop Tomasi told the committee that, in December, Pope Francis approved the establishment of an international commission to promote child protection and prevent abuse. He said Vatican City State recently updated its laws to define and set out penalties for specific crimes against minors, including the sale of children, child prostitution, the military recruitment of children, sexual violence against children and producing or possessing child pornography.

In late November, the Vatican responded in writing to questions from the committee about its last report on compliance with the treaty; much of the Vatican response involved explaining the difference between the Vatican’s direct legal jurisdiction over Vatican City State and its moral and canonical influence over Catholics around the world.

“Priests are not functionaries of the Vatican,” Archbishop Tomasi told the committee. “They are citizens of their own state and fall under the jurisdiction of that state.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said in a statement Jan. 16 said that questions posed by the committee and others “seem to presuppose that bishops and religious superiors act as representatives or delegates of the pope, something which is without foundation.”

Since responding in November, Archbishop Tomasi told the committee, “a citizen of Vatican City State has been place under investigation for alleged sexual crimes committed against children outside the territory of Vatican City State.”

Asked by the committee about the case, Archbishop Tomasi declined to give details because the investigation is still underway, but he said it would be handled “with the severity it deserves.”

The archbishop was referring to Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who the Vatican removed as nuncio to the Dominican Republic in August after he was accused of paying for sex with boys in the Caribbean country.

Father Lombardi confirmed Jan. 11 that the former nuncio was being investigated canonically by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and also was the subject of a criminal investigation by Vatican City State legal authorities.

The Geneva committee asked Archbishop Tomasi whether Archbishop Wesolowski would be extradited, but Archbishop Tomasi said that, as a diplomat, he would be tried at the Vatican, under Vatican civil laws.

Archbishop Tomasi acknowledged that “abusers are found among members of the world’s most respected professions, most regrettably, including members of the clergy and other church personnel.”

Abuse by clergy, he said, is “particularly serious since these persons are in positions of great trust, and they are called to levels of service that are to promote and protect all elements of the human person, including physical, emotional and spiritual health. This relationship of trust is critical and demands a higher sense of responsibility and respect for the persons served.”

In the days before the U.N. committee meeting, organizations representing victims of clerical sex abuse and others continued to make public criticisms of the Vatican and to claim that it had direct responsibility for handling or mishandling cases of abuse around the globe.

Archbishop Tomasi told Vatican Radio, “The criticisms are easy to make and sometimes have a basis in reality; any crime is an evil, but when children are involved it becomes even more serious.”

At the same time, he said, “the accusation that the Holy See has blocked the carrying out of justice seems to be unfounded.”

The Committee on the Rights of the Child broadcast the session live on the Internet.

Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the former sex abuse investigator in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also appeared before the U.N. committee and answered questions, specifically about canon law and Vatican policy in dealing with allegations of clerical sexual abuse.

One of the committee members told him and Archbishop Tomasi that Vatican procedures “aren’t very transparent and the victims don’t take part” in the proceedings.

The Holy See knows “there are things that need to be done differently,” Bishop Scicluna said, particularly to address concerns about whether a local church has covered up cases of alleged abuse.

“States need to take action against the obstruction of justice,” no matter who is involved, he said. “Only the truth will help us move on.”

Religious orders and dioceses are required to investigate allegations and inform the doctrinal congregation about suspected abuse, Bishop Scicluna said, “but it does not substitute or override domestic laws” in force where these people are, “where the sexual abuse of a minor is rightly seen as an egregious crime.”

“Religious orders and dioceses have to follow domestic laws about disclosure,” Bishop Scicluna said, and this fact “needs to be pointed out and said very clearly.”

Bishop Scicluna and Archbishop Tomasi were asked several times why the Vatican had not made it obligatory for local bishops and religious superiors to report every case of suspected abuse to civil authorities whether local law required reporting or not.

Bishop Scicluna said he believed a more effective strategy would be to educate all Catholics about their rights and responsibilities concerning abuse.

Committee members asked repeatedly about the total number of accusations made against Catholic clergy around the world and about the results of investigations on every level.

Bishop Scicluna said the Vatican has “no statistics on how cases developed. That does not mean it should be this way. It is in the public interest to know the outcomes of the procedures” and know if a priest or other church employee was “found guilty, found innocent or not proven guilty” although there was enough evidence to be concerned about the person’s interaction with children.


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Refugee treaty needs improvement, says Vatican official


GENEVA — More than half a century after its creation, an international treaty designed to protect refugees has room for improvement, a Vatican official said.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative to U.N. and other agencies in Geneva, noted the Holy See was among the original 26 states that took part in the conference on the status of refugees in 1951, which then led to the U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees.

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