VATICAN CITY (RNS) A United Nations panel on Wednesday (Feb. 5) blasted the Vatican for protecting itself rather than victims of sexual abuse, and it called on the Holy See to create what it called an “independent mechanism” to investigate new charges of abuse.
The 16-page report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest thousands of young people over a span of decades. It also calls on the church to remove known or suspected abusers from its ranks immediately.
“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 report also blasted the Vatican for its views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, and for failing to take a stronger stand in favor of making health care more accessible. But it was the stand on sexual abuse that raised the most eyebrows.
The report is the most devastating blow yet against the Vatican and its policies toward dealing with pedophile priests and other alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse. It comes nearly a month after the U.N. grilled Vatican officials for a full day as part of its investigation into the report.
At the time, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, a former abuse prosecutor with the Holy See, told the U.N. panel in Geneva that more had to be done to confront the abuse scandal, but he also insisted the Vatican could do little to confront the issue worldwide because of its limited jurisdiction.
“The Holy See gets it,” said Scicluna, now a bishop in Malta. “Let’s not say it is or is not too late. There are clearly certain things that must be done differently in the future.”
The latest development will put new pressure on Pope Francis to take a strong stand on the issue. In December, Francis said he would create a special commission to study sexual abuse accusations and come up with ways to confront the problem, but few details have been released and the area remains one where the wildly popular pontiff has drawn fire from critics.
Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, continued that criticism after the report was released, while praising the U.N. for taking a strong stand.
“The more international bodies and local governments step up, the sooner we can end the Vatican’s practices, including cover-ups, that continue to result in the rape of children and vulnerable adults in the church,” Blaine said.
Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which worked with SNAP to push the abuse issue in front of the U.N. panel, said “the international community is finally holding the Vatican accountable for its role in enabling and perpetuating sexual violence in the church.”
While the U.N. has no ability to enforce its findings or recommendations on the Vatican, Gallagher’s office said that as a signer of the 1990 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Holy See is obligated to meet the treaty obligations. The panel asked the Vatican to report back in 2017.
For its part, the Vatican declined interview requests, but a statement said it “takes note” of the report, which will “be submitted to a thorough study and examination.”
“We have to keep in mind that … there are … 40 million cases of abuse a year regarding children, and unfortunately some cases affect also church personnel,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative to the U.N. in Geneva. “We have to keep in mind that, we have to continue to combat this tragedy knowing that even a case of abuse of a child is a case too much.”
The Vatican statement took issue with some aspects of the report, which it said “attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of the human person and in the exercise of religious freedom” — a reference to the report’s critique on church teachings against abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
On the issue of sexual abuse, the Vatican said it “reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child.” It did not specifically address the most scathing of the U.N.’s criticisms.
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