UN panel on torture to put unlikely guest on hot seat: the Vatican

The United Nations Committee against Torture, which requires nations to come before the panel and defend their human rights records, will put an unlikely subject on its hot seat next week when it calls in the Vatican.

The UN panel, which includes representatives from China, the U.S. and eight other nations, will meet in Geneva and call the Vatican to account for its record on torture and inhumane punishment in a procedure to be aired live on the Internet beginning Monday. It's standard procedure for all 155 nations that signed on to the committee's convention to submit a report and come before the panel, and the Vatican is both a nation-state and a signatory. Cyprus, Lithuania, Guinea, Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Thailand and Uruguay are also scheduled to appear beginning next week.

“The Holy See initiated the procedure by submitting their written report,” Felice Gaer, the U.S. representative and a vice-chair of the committee, told FoxNews.com.

At past sessions, nations that carry out or condone practices universally recognized as inhumane have been forced to defend their records. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has called for the committee to grill the Vatican regarding longstanding allegations of sexual abuse among clergy, contending failures in the Holy See’s response to the scandal amounts to a violation of the convention.

While it is possible the panel will raise longstanding allegations of sexual abuse among clergy, the Vatican report focuses mostly on what the church has and has not done to stop other nations from carrying out human rights violations.

“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," reads a passage from the Vatican's report. "Regrettable as these facts are, the church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy.”

This will be the Vatican’s second such hearing before a UN panel. Last January, officials for the Holy See testified before the UN committee that oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which also released at the time a report criticizing the Church for its stances against homosexuality, contraception and abortion. The Committee also urged Holy See officials in their report to change their canon law to ensure the rights of children.

Vatican spokesman Father Frederico Lombardi recently said the church hierarchy takes its responsibilities as a nation and member of the UN seriously.

“This is part of the ordinary procedures to which all state parties to the convention adhere," Lombardi told reporters. “It is not that the Holy See was convoked in a way outside the normal procedures. In the name of Vatican City State -- not for the universal church -- because the convention has juridical characteristics."

But Gaer said the Vatican was a decade late in handing in the report that prompted Monday's procedure, and said the committee has been given no explanation for the delay.

“The Committee has many times expressed concern about lateness of a report, and has sometimes asked to receive an explanation of the reasons,” Gaer said, noting that other nations have similarly dragged their feet. "States are supposed to report one year after the convention comes into force, and then every four years. Some do that. This procedural compliance issue -- periodic reporting -- was one of the issues examined in recent attempts to reform the human rights treaty bodies. It hasn’t been resolved.”

Officials for the Holy See did not immediately return requests for comment.