TURTLE BAY, NY, May 23, 2014 ( – Although a United Nations official said the Catholic Church's teaching against abortion constitutes a form of “torture” during a tense cross-examination earlier this month, the UN quietly dropped such allegations from its final report on the Vatican issued today.


Instead the UN Committee Against Torture's document focuses on the main topic of the hearings, held on May 5 in Geneva: the clergy abuse scandal.

But that's not what made the headlines on May 5, when one of the panel's two representatives used the hearings to allege that opposition to abortion-on-demand violated the UN Charter Against Torture.


Felice Gaer, the director of the American Jewish Committee's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, said the Christian religion's traditional respect for all life may be responsible for nine-year-old rape victims giving birth.

“This committee has found repeatedly that laws that criminalize the termination of pregnancy in all circumstances can violate the terms of the convention,” Gaer said, focusing on opposition to abortion in the cases of rape and incest.

Her remarks drew frustrated rebuttals from Catholic political observers, and the Vatican itself. 

“The report makes no mention of abortion, canon law, or any Church teaching on sexuality, yet these subjects were grist for attacks on Church officials during the hearings,” Bill Donohue, president of The Catholic League, said on Friday. “Why, then, was committee member Felice Gaer allowed to conduct what amounted to, at times, a show trial?”

“If none of her highly politicized remarks were even tangentially addressed by the report, it calls into question her continued service to this committee,” he said. “She should be asked to step down immediately.”

Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Holy See's Permanent Observer at the UN, had responded to Gaer's comments, saying that abortion is the true “cruel act.” “Leaving babies who are born alive to die after a failed abortion attempt, or having them ripped to pieces, dismembered in the womb, seem very painful forms of torture,” he said.

“The defense of the right to life is a positive application of the Convention against Torture, which is specifically intended to eliminate any form of abuse of people through the imposition of suffering.”

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He said the UN has a right to monitor but not to act as a court, and that it must learn “that the freedom of opinion and belief is a fundamental and inalienable right. It is certainly not the responsibility of the UN experts to say what a nation must think or believe, especially if it is not respecting the natural law.”

In February, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child similarly chided the Catholic Church, claiming its teachings on abortion and contraception harmed young women and minor girls around the world.

Donohue said he had only sparing objections to today's report. “The UN Committee on Torture issued a mostly balanced report today,” he said, “but it needs to do more to empty its proceedings of politics. Its animus against the Holy See must end.”

Archbishop Tomasi said the papacy has taken tremendous efforts to fight the child sexual abuse scandal over the past decade. In all, the Catholic Church has defrocked 848 priests and taken other sanctions against another 2,572 clergy who were infirm or elderly.

“The sins of the Christian community are not a justification for imposing wrong doctrines upon them, nor to limit their freedom,” the archbishop said on Friday. The proper response to illicit sexual activity will see the Vatican “correct erroneous behavior and adhere with greater consistency to the truth in which we believe.”