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Inside Story

Vatican: The Holy See of shame?

As the UN condemns the Vatican's handling of the child abuse scandal, we ask if reforms can bring about real change.

Last updated: 18 Jan 2014 14:53
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Pope Francis has called it the shame of the Catholic Church - decades of sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests around the world.

For years there has been a culture of secrecy surrounding the issue, to protect the reputation of the Holy See. But now, for the first time, the Vatican is being held to account - publicly.

All we are getting is nice smiles and  wonderful PR. We are not actually getting any signs that he is any different from his predecessor as far as child abuse is concerned.

Keith Porteous Wood, the National Secular Society

Representatives of the pope have been questioned at a United Nations hearing in Geneva. They have been accused of not doing more to prevent this abuse, of a lack of transparency and not taking responsibility for the scandal.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the permanent observer of the Holy See at the UN said this at the hearing:

"In the end, there is no excuse for any form of violence or exploitation of children. Such crimes can never be justified whether committed in the home, in schools, in community and sports programmes, in religious organisations and structures. This is the longstanding policy of the Holy See."

Pope Francis, who only recently took the helm, has started to reform the Church. Since being elected in February last year, he has tried to bring more austerity and transparency to the Vatican. 

Earlier this week, he chose 16 new cardinals - most of whom are from the developing world.

Bishops were chosen in places such as Haiti and Burkina Faso - among the globe's poorest countries.

In a shake up of the Vatican's Bank, Pope Francis removed four cardinals from its oversight board. There have been a series of scandals involving the bank and the pontiff has warned against what he calls priest wheeler dealers and priest tycoons.

He has also announced a new committee to deal with child abuse in the Church. Experts will advise on a code of conduct for priests, better support for victims and screening candidates for priesthood. 

As the Catholic Church stands accused of failing to protect thousands of children from paedophile priests, how damaging is this scandal to the its image? And will Pope Francis' efforts to reshape the Catholic Church's hierarchy make any difference?

Inside Story presenter Laura Kyle discusses with guests: Keith Porteous Wood, the executive director of the National Secular Society in the UK; Gerard O'Connell, a journalist who has covered the Vatican for 25 years; Philip Willan, the author of the book Vatican at War.

"I don't think the criticism is entirely fair. I think Pope Francis is very sincere in his determination to effect really radical change and I think he has been very upset by all the evidence of scandal that has emerged in recent times and that really brought down his predecesor and that left the Church in a rudderless and desperate state when he took over. I think he is sincere about reform and I think he is moving in a slow and deliberate way.... i think it is far too early to judge him on his new line of governance in the Vatican."

Philip Willan, the author of Vatican at War

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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