The UN has rejected a Vatican argument that it cannot implement a children’s rights convention beyond its walls, saying the church has “placed the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s interests.”
The Vatican was denounced on Wednesday by a UN human rights committee for failing to prevent priests raping and molesting tens of thousands of children over decades and for adopting policies that allowed abuse to continue once detected.
There was not, the committee said, adequate provision to ensure that cases like Ireland’s Magdalene laundries scandal – where girls were arbitrarily placed in conditions of forced labour – could not be repeated.
Offenders are moved around to new churches or locations, in order to protect them, while putting more children at risk of abuse, the report said while also condemning the “code of silence” imposed on child victims and the fact that those exposed almost always avoided prosecution.
“The Committee is 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,” the report said.
The Vatican said it regretted what it called an attempt by the UN committee to interfere with its teaching on abortion and contraception.
It said in a statement that it remained committed to defending and protecting the rights of children but that it regrets that the committee had attempted “to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.”
Al Jazeera’s Simon McGregor-Wood, reporting from Geneva, said that the report would put pressure on Pope Francis, who until now has been warmly received, and that the Vatican is uncomfortable with being forced into a public debate.
“What we’re seeing here is pretty much a clash of cultures,” he said. “The UN committee is peopled by ardent advocates of human rights – educationalists, child psychologists, legal experts. The Vatican, on the other hand, is very secretive – a hierarchical organsation that is very much used to doing its business in private and keeping its secrets secret.”
Compulsory reporting of cases to local law enforcement has consistently been rejected by the Church, something the UN body condemned, highlighting cases of priests and nuns being ostracised for speaking out.
The report recommended that a new commission, set up by Pope Francis, should ask for civil society help and share all its data in public, ending a culture of failing to provide information about private investigations. It also ordered a rehabilitation centre be set up and “full compensation” be paid to the victims and their families.
A claim by the Vatican that it can not implement the convention beyond its walls was rejected. The UN said that signing the convention meant a responsibility to see it implemented “everywhere you have a priest or a school or a mission that comes under Catholic supervision”.
The UN demanded that all clergy known or suspected to be child abusers be removed immediately. The committee also said archives containing details of past abusers should be handed over so that culprits, as well as “those who concealed their crimes”, could be held accountable.
The Holy See was also criticised for its attitudes towards homosexuality, contraception and abortion, with the report finding that its attitudes often increased the risks faced by gay or transgender people.