A UN rights committee on Wednesday called on the Vatican to turn over any clergy or lay employees suspected of abusing children over to the police to face possible prosecution.
In an unprecedented report, 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 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also denounced the Church for failing to live up to its repeated pledges to handle abuse complaints internally. It criticised the Vatican for "systematically" placing concerns for its reputation ahead of its responsibility to protect children by failing to remove clergy suspected of molestation.
"The committee expresses 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 child victims," it said.
Committee head Kirsten Sandberg said that despite the Vatican's pledges to adopt a zero-tolerance approach, it was in clear breach of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which it is a signatory.
"The simple answer is yes, they are in breach of the Convention as up to now, because they haven't done all the things that they should have done," Sandberg told reporters.
The report said the Vatican had failed to acknowledge the extent of abuse, nor taken necessary measures to protect children, and had allowed perpetrators to continue with impunity.
It blasted the Vatican's past policy of transferring abusers to new parishes within the same countries, and even across borders, in an attempt to cover up their crimes.
No Catholic bishop has ever been sanctioned by the Vatican for sheltering an abusive priest, and only in 2010 did the Holy See direct bishops to report abusers to police when law enforcement requires it.
In a terse response, the Vatican said it "took note" of the UN's recommendations, which are non-binding, but said that the UN had "distorted" some of the facts of abuse.
But it hit back over what it called its "non-negotiable" moral stance on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception, for which it also came under fire in the UN report.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Holy See’s UN delegation in Geneva, told Vatican Radio that non-governmental organisations that favour gay marriage probably influenced the UN committee to take an “ideological line” in its report.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) welcomed the publication.
"The quickest way to prevent child sexual violence by Catholic clerics is for Pope Francis to publicly remove all offenders from ministry and harshly punish their colleagues and supervisors who enabled their crimes," SNAP said in a statement, adding that the pontiff had so far "refused to take even tiny steps in this direction".
"Now it's up to secular officials to follow the UN's lead and step in to safeguard the vulnerable because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so," it added.
The committee report had highlighted the case of a 9-year-old Brazilian girl who was raped by her stepfather, and whose mother and doctor where excommunicated by the Church after she terminated the resulting pregnancy.
'Code of silence'
The report followed a landmark January hearing during which the 18 independent human rights experts from around the globe who make up the committee grilled senior Church officials.
The committee criticised the Church for dealing with paedophile priests behind closed doors and allowing "the vast majority of abusers and almost all those who concealed child sexual abuse to escape judicial proceedings in states where abuses were committed".
It also denounced the "code of silence" imposed on clergy under threat of excommunication, saying that, as a result, cases of abuse where hardly ever reported to national law enforcement authorities.
Church whistleblowers had been "ostracised, demoted and fired", while priests who remained silent were even congratulated, and victims who were compensated were bound by confidentiality clauses, the committee said.
Benedict XVI, pontiff from 2005 to 2013, was the first pope to apologise to abuse victims and call for zero tolerance, though critics said the new rhetoric took the place of any real action.
Pope Francis has said that Catholics should feel "shame" for the abuse committed within the Church and in December created a commission to investigate sex crimes, enforce prevention and care for victims.
The UN committee welcomed the move, but said it did not go far enough and that it was time for the Vatican to create an independent human rights mechanism to address abuse.
Referring to Ireland's "Magdalene Laundries" – Church-run institutions for unmarried girls who got pregnant, and which were finally closed in 1996 – the committee said the Vatican had failed to provide justice for the girls who endured "slavery-like" conditions, degrading treatment, violence and sexual abuse.
It also said Church archives should be opened in order to hold accountable abusers and all those who concealed their crimes and who knowingly placed offenders in contact with children.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-05