A scuplture of a Saint on the St. Peter's colonnade in
Vatican City. Photo Getty Images
The United Nations has accused the Vatican of
systematically turning a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse
of children by priests, and demanded it immediately turn over
known or suspected offenders to civil justice.
In a scathingly blunt report, the UN Committee on the Rights
of the Child said Church officials had imposed a "code of
silence" on clerics and moved abusers from parish to parish
"in an attempt to cover up such crimes".
The Vatican called the report "distorted" and "unfair" and
said the United Nations had ignored steps taken in the past
decade to protect children.
The combative exchange sets the scene for the Vatican's
biggest clash with the United Nations since 1994. Then, at a
UN population conference in Cairo, the Vatican forced the
international organisation to back down on a proposal to
approve abortion as a means of birth control.
The report also lays out a fresh challenge for a commission
named by Pope Francis in December to advise him on a scandal
that has plagued the Church for decades.
The committee said it was "gravely concerned that the Holy
See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed,
has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of
child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted
policies and practices which have led to the continuation of
the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators".
It urged the Vatican to "immediately remove all known and
suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the
matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for
investigation and prosecution purposes".
The Vatican initially planned a muted response, according to
a person familiar with the matter, but raised its tone, after
much debate, in response to the report's demands that the
Catholic Church scale back its opposition to abortion,
artificial contraception and homosexuality.
"This committee has not rendered a good service to the United
Nations," Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Vatican
delegation to UN organisations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio,
accusing the committee of interfering in religious freedom by
trying to dictate the church's moral teachings.
Tomasi said non-governmental organisations favouring gay
marriage - which the Church opposes - probably influenced the
committee to reinforce what he called "an ideological line".
The committee said the Holy See must hand over an archive of
evidence about the abuse of tens of thousands of children and
take measures to prevent a repeat of cases such as the
scandal of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries, where girls were
forced to work in church-run institutions.
Pope Francis, in office for only 11 months, has called sexual
abuse of children "the shame of the Church" and has vowed to
continue procedures put in place by his predecessor, Benedict
But the report expressed "serious concern that in dealing
with child victims of different forms of abuse, the Holy See
has systematically placed preservation of the reputation of
the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of
BISHOPS NOT ACCOUNTABLE
While several bishops have resigned after abuse scandals in
their dioceses, victims' groups say the Vatican must make
bishops legally accountable for alleged cover-ups.
"If the pope is serious about turning the page on this
scandal, he should immediately dismiss any bishop who oversaw
a diocese in which a priest who abused children was shielded
from the civil authorities," said Jon O'Brien, president of
the U.S. lobby group Catholics for Choice.
The report said Francis's commission should invite outside
experts and victims to participate in an investigation of
abusers "as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in
dealing with them".
Miguel Hurtado, who was sexually abused by a priest in Spain
when he was 16 and travelled to Geneva for the report's
release, said he felt emotional and vindicated.
"Many times, victims were disbelieved. They doubted our
stories, they doubted our motives. They thought that our
motives were because we were after money or destroying or
attacking the Church," the 31-year-old told Reuters.
At a stormy grilling by the committee in Geneva last month,
the Holy See's delegation, answering questions from an
international rights panel for the first time since the
scandals broke about 15 years ago, denied allegations of a
cover-up and said the Church had set clear guidelines to
protect children from predator priests.
Wednesday's report called for an internal investigation of
the Magdalene Laundries and similar institutions so that
those who were responsible could be prosecuted, and "full
compensation" could be paid to victims and families.