HOLY SEE: UN rebukes State on child sexual abuse

[5 February 2014] The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has strongly criticised the Holy See for its handling of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church today following its historic review of the State last month.

“The Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests,” said the Committee in its concluding observations published this morning.

The Committee expressed its “deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches” involving “tens of thousands of children worldwide”, and has denounced the Holy See for failing to acknowledge the extent of the crimes, protect children from abuse, and for ensuring the impunity of perpetrators. 

“Child victims and their families have often been blamed by religious authorities, discredited and discouraged from pursuing their complaints and in some instances humiliated,” the Committee went on to say.

In a long list of recommendations to the Holy See to vastly improve its adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee has told the Holy See 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.”

Last month’s review in Geneva saw a ballet-cum-boxing match, with the Committee in one corner asking the Holy See for specific details on what the State knows about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, what it has done to prevent it and what it plans to do. In the other corner, the Holy See delegates attempted to gracefully sidestep the issues with evasion tactics.

One such tactic employed by the Holy See was that it only has jurisdiction over the territory of the Vatican City State - and therefore only 36 children. In today’s concluding observations, the Committee rejected this by “remind[ing] the Holy See that by ratifying the Convention [on the Rights of the Child], it has committed itself to implementing the Convention not only on the territory of the Vatican City State but also as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority.”

The Committee also released its concluding observations on the Holy See’s adherence to the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography today. There the Committee reprimands the Holy See for, among other things, the immunity treaties it has with specific countries (such as Italy) so clergy are not investigated or prosecuted for crimes, including child sexual abuse.

While child sexual abuse was the focus of the Committee’s review of the Holy See last month, the State’s respect for all children’s rights in the Convention was also up for scrutiny. The Committee’s concluding observations include strong criticism of the Holy See’s stance on abortion, corporal punishment, stigmatisation of LGBT communities and discrimination against children with families other than those comprising of a mother, father and children. The Committee also covered violence against children in Catholic institutions around the world, notably the Magdalene laundries in Ireland, recommending the Holy See take responsibility and ensure compensation to victims and their families.

CRIN will publish a special edition Violence CRINmail next week with considered analysis of the concluding observations.

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