HOLY SEE: Child sexual abuse - UN review

Read the transcript of the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child's session here


The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will be holding its 65th session in Geneva from 13-31 January 2014.

The Holy See is one of six States due to be examined on its implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child during the Committee’s 65th session.  

The Committee’s review of the Holy See is set for Thursday 16 January. CRIN is reporting live from Geneva, with live updates on this page and #HolySeeConfess on twitter. 

CRIN updates

5.45pm The review is now finished. A lot of coverage has taken place on #HolySeeConfess on twitter.

As the Committee said in closing "the devil will be in the details. This Committee is about not what is said, but what is done". 

The Holy See made some positive remarks towards the end about engaging with civil society - "A dialogue with civil society is a good idea. Maybe it will take place in the future".

As an international children's rights NGO, we really hope that it does.

5.20pm This is the final hour. Still the Holy See continues to avoid the Committee's direct questions and has yet to provide any information on the reforms they refer to. They continue to emphasise that the responsibility for a priest who breaks the law, including sexually abusing children, lies only with national authorities. 

"We take your questions seriously. But we are not in a position to give you an answer right now", said the Holy See delegate. This is despite the Committee's very specific list of questions, which were sent to the Holy See back in July 2013, and contained very specific questions on this issue. 

4.30pm So far the Holy See delegates have done a very good job of not answering the Committee’s questions directly. Is this the code of silence in action?

The Committee has asked specifically about cases where victims have been given compensation but on the condition that they remain silent.

The Holy See admitted there have been a few cases in the past where this happened. But as far as the Holy See is concerned its policy on this has been strong over the past few years.

Again, the Holy See could not provide statistics on this. That code of silence again?

3.50pm The Holy See keeps saying that stopping child sexual abuse in the Church is about education of new priests. We ask - what about justice for victims? What about priests who have abused? How exactly do you stop them from doing it again?

The Committee asks about priests who have abused and the “geographical cure” - moving priests to another parish or country once there are abuse allegations.

Holy See says "it is a question of training and rehabilitation". They said there have been “unfortunate instances” of transfers where the Church’s policy of informing bishops in the new area was not followed.

What about informing the police?

3.20pm The Committee pressed the Holy See on extradition treaties in has (see case of a Polish priest as an example that the Vatican says they won’t extradite).

The Committee asked what happens when the country concerned wants to prosecute? Do you help with the collection of evidence? What support does the country get from you?

Holy See - "It is the responsibility of the local authorities and domestic law. The Holy See gives encouragement."

Chairperson - "But you said earlier today you would give information?"

Holy See - "Yes, whatever is available."

CRIN - Where are your public records?

3pm The Committee's review of the Holy See starts again. Drum roll! Wonder how they will answer the Committee's questions on reforms of canon law, and how the Holy See controls churches are the world yet says its jurisdiction is only over the territory of the Holy See (where only 36 children live). 

1.15pm The Committee is breaking for lunch now. Focus of the Committee's questions have been on the contradictory nature of what the Holy See says happens and what actually happens in reality.

The Committee pressed hard on a interview the Holy See gave in 2011 where they said that only 10% of child sexual abuse cases in the Church constitute paedophilla "in the true sense" and that 90% of abusing clerics can be rehabilitated. They asked the delegates if the Holy See still believed this is true, and what they are actually doing to protect children. Why aren't child abusers known to the Church being handed over to authorities?

12.45pm The Committee is pressing the Holy See on contradictions in its policies and what happens in reality.

Holy See says “it is not a policy to endorse coverups”.

Committee - But statistics on legal cases across the globe against abusive priests are not published externally. The Committee says that “openness instead of sweeping under the carpet” is what needs to happen. The Committee says to the Holy See “it seems your procedures are not transparent” and that victims are not involved.

See CRIN’s report for “table of contradictions” on what the Holy See promises and what actually happens.

12.30pm The Holy See says "we get it. Things need to be done differently". They then move onto the responsibility of States to investigate their citizens (including priests) accused of these crimes against children and find the truth. But we want to know what the Holy See, as a UN State with human rights responsibilities, is doing to protect children from sexual abuse. They cannot continue to put all the blame on local law enforcement. 

The Committee continues to press the Holy See on statistics, and wants to know how exactly the Holy See's procedures are changing. 

12.15pm Interesting dynamic going on. The Committee says the Holy See is trying to rush through answers. The Committee continues to press and is asking follow up questions. For instance, will the commission the Holy See is looking to set up on child sexual abuse include civil society and victims?

12.05pm And we are back! The Holy See is starting to answer the Committee's questions. Stay tuned. 

There has been some terrific news coverage so far. Just some examples below. 

11.40am The Committee is taking a break now so the Holy See can prepare their answers to the Committee's questions. Back at 11.55. 

Just before that they asked the Holy See for details on treaties it has with other countries for when priests break national laws. CRIN's report details one it has with Italy that gives Vatican officials immunity. 

11.25am The Committee says "this room has never been so packed, particularly with international media. This shows the importance of the Holy See as a State and this Committee in ensuring the Convention on the Rights of the Child is respected." 

The review starts going beyond sexual abuse. The Committee talks about corporal punishment of children in Catholic institutions - it says it can't believe the Holy See actually promotes it, let alone allows it. Is banning corporal punishment part of the review of canon law that is going on at the moment?

11.00am It's really heating up! The Committee makes it clear that children are human beings with rights, and has asked the Holy See why is there is no mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse to authorities. Why is it actively avoided? Why are all proceedings in the Holy See about child sexual abuse concealed? Why is there a "strict code of silence"? 

10.50am Moving priests who have abused children to another parish, or different part of the world (ie "the geographical cure"), has been brought up by the Committee. The Committee wants information from the Holy See on this. More about "the geographical cure" in CRIN's report.

10.45am The UN Committee has asked the Holy See directly about cover-ups. Why have they not been more transparent and publish data?

10.40am the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is pressing the Holy See to say exactly what they are going to do about the 73 million children (figure given by Committee Member) who have been sexually abused.

The Committee has also asked Holy See to provide specific information on their ability to influence local Catholic institutions such as schools, orphanages and health facilities and on the character of its guidelines to national Catholic churches.

10.20am Holy See delegate says "there is no excuse for any form of violence or exploitation of children" and that this is more tragic when the abuser is a cleric. The delegate is running through the promises made by past and current popes, saying that this shows that the Holy See takes the issue seriously.

10.10am "The protection of children remains a concern for society and the Holy See" says Holy See delegate, talking about the importance of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that they have voluntarily ratified. So will they give details of child sexual abuse to the UN Committee today? 

They say they want to listen to victims and survivors of abuse.

9.50am - The room is packed with anticipation, with the review to start in 10 minutes. Survivors, journalists, children's rights advocates are here from around the world - as far as Mexico and the US. 

Background to the review

You can find all documents related to the review on the Committee’s 65th session page, including the List of Issues (what the review will be about - including child sexual abuse), the Holy See’s replies and alternative reports submitted by NGOs and victim support groups.

Prior to the January session, the Committee delivered a list of issues to the Vatican in July 2013. The list comprised of a series of questions, including the Committee’s specific request to the Holy See for detailed information on all child sexual abuse cases by clerics around the world known to the Holy See. This includes information on specific cases where bishops or leaders had failed to report suspected abuse to the police, any internal investigations which had been undertaken and how the Holy See was ensuring that abusers had no further contact with children.   

The Holy See was given until the 1 November 2013 to submit a response. It replied over a month later, on the 6 December, with largely evasive answers. Despite stating that it considers the Convention the Rights of the Child “the most important among the rules of international law”, the Holy See has yet to provide the Committee with the required information.

The Holy See has voluntarily ratified the UN Convention on the Rights Child, so like all other State Parties it needs to regularly report to the Committee on its adherence to the Convention, which is a legally binding document under international law that includes, among others, children’s right to protection from violence and sexual abuse.

This is the first time the UN has requested such specific details on child sexual abuse  from the Holy See. The Holy See has reported to the Committee before, with its first report after ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1995. Its second report was due in 1997, but it only submitted it in 2011 which scheduled its review for January 2014.

This page will be updated regularly on 16 January as CRIN reports live from Geneva, as will #HolySeeConfess on twitter. 

Further information:


Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.