HOLY SEE: Children's Rights in UN Treaty Body Reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of all UN Treaty Bodies and their follow-up procedures. This does not include the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which are available here: http://www.crin.org/resources/treaties/index.asp

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity.


UN Human Rights Committee

Not yet signed or ratified.


UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Not yet signed or ratified.  

UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination


Last reported: 24 and 25 November 2015
Concluding Observations issued: 11 December 2015

No mention of children’s rights

Last reported: 17 August 2000
Concluding Observations issued: 23rd August 2000

Issues raised:

No children's rights mentions     

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Not yet signed or ratified.

UN Committee against Torture


Last reported: 8 March 2013

Concluding Observations issued: 23 May 2014

Issues raised and recommendations given:

Child sexual abuse: The Committee welcomes the issuance by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of a Circular Letter to Assist Episcopal Conferences in Developing Guidelines for Dealing with Cases of Sexual Abuses of Minors Perpetrated by Clerics, on 3 May 2011, which confirms, as established in the 2001 Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, that Bishops and Major Superiors are to refer all credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Circular Letter also establishes, in its own words, that “the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed.” (Paragraph 5)
Policy change (child sexual abuse): The Committee also welcomes the efforts of the State party to amend its policies, programmes and administrative measures to give effect to the Convention, including:        

  • The creation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, on 5 December 2013, to serve as an advisory committee to the Pope, and its members’ statement on 3 May 2014 that they view ensuring accountability as especially important; and
  • The statement by Pope Francis, during a meeting with the International Catholic Child Bureau on 11 April 2014, acknowledging the damage done by the sexual abuse of children by some priests, in which the Pontiff affirmed that “we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger.”  (Paragraph 6)        

Mandatory reporting and data collection (child sexual abuse): The Committee notes that since 2001 Holy See officials have required mandatory reporting of all credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Vatican City State. The Committee appreciates the data provided by the delegation indicating that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith confirmed 3420 credible allegations of sexual abuse by priests between 2004-2013, resulting in the implementation of numerous canonical penalties meted out through an ecclesiastical penal process, including the defrocking of 848 priests and disciplining of 2572 others such as through imposition of a life of prayer or penance.

The Committee regrets the State party did not provide requested data on the number of cases in which the State party provided information to civil authorities in the places where the cases arose and in the places where the priests concerned are currently located. The Committee welcomes the assurance made by the delegation that Catholic clergy are instructed to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by clergy members to the civil authorities as well as to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Nevertheless, the Committee is concerned by reports that the State party’s officials resist the principle of mandatory reporting of such allegations to civil authorities.
The Committee is further concerned by numerous reports of cases in which clergy accused or convicted by civil authorities of such offenses were transferred to other dioceses and institutions where they remained in contact with minors and others who are vulnerable, and in some cases committed abuse in their subsequent placements. Such allegations appear in the reports of commissions and investigations undertaken in diverse countries. During the dialogue with the State party, the Committee raised the case of Father Joseph Jeyapaul, the case of Father Peter Kramer, and the findings reached by a grand jury in Philadelphia, USA, in 2005, as illustrative of these concerns.
The State party should ensure that Holy See officials and other public officials of the Vatican City State take effective measures to monitor the conduct of individuals under their effective control, to stop and sanction such conduct in any case where they become aware of credible allegations of violations of the Convention, and to take other measures within their control to prevent the commission of subsequent violations by the individuals concerned, including to:

  • Continue to develop and implement programmes and policies to prevent violations of the Convention;
  • Ensure that individuals that are subject to an allegation of abuse brought to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or other officials of the State party are immediately suspended from their duties pending the investigation of the complaint, to guard against the possibility of subsequent abuse or intimidation of victims;
  • Ensure effective monitoring of the placements of all clergy that are under investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and prevent the transfer of clergy who have been credibly accused of abuse for the purposes of avoiding proper investigation and punishment of their crimes. For those found responsible, apply sanctions, including dismissal from clerical service;
  • Ensure that all State party officials exercise due diligence and react properly to credible allegations of abuse, subjecting any official that fails to do so to meaningful sanctions; and        
  • Take effective measures to ensure that allegations received by its officials concerning violations of the Convention are communicated to the proper civil authorities to facilitate their investigation and prosecution of alleged perpetrators. The State party should provide data to the Committee in its next periodic report on the number of cases in which it provided information to civil authorities both in the places where cases arose and in the places where the persons concerned are currently located. (Paragraph 10)        

Immunity: While the Committee appreciates the confirmation provided regarding the ongoing investigation under the Vatican City State Criminal Code of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic. The Committee notes that the Republic of Poland has reportedly requested the extradition of Archbishop Wesolowski. The Committee is concerned that the State party did not identify any case to date in which it has prosecuted an individual responsible for the commission of or complicity or participation in a violation of the Convention.

The State party should ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation of Archbishop Wesolowski and any other persons accused of perpetrating or being complicit in violations of the Convention who are nationals of the State party or are present on the territory of the State party. If warranted, the State party should ensure such persons are criminally prosecuted or extradited for prosecution by the civil authorities of another State party. The Committee requests the State party to provide it with information on the outcome of the investigation concerning Archbishop Wesolowski. (Paragraph 11)
The Committee expresses concern about allegations that in 2013 the papal nuncio to Australia invoked diplomatic immunity in refusing to provide archival documentation to assist the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into sex abuse. The Committee recalls that article 9 of the Convention obligates States parties to “afford one another the greatest measure of assistance” in connection with criminal proceedings related to violations of the Convention, “including the supply of all evidence at their disposal necessary for the proceedings”.

The State party should take effective steps to ensure the provision of information to civil authorities in cases where they are carrying out criminal investigations of allegations of violations of the Convention perpetrated by Catholic clergy or acquiesced to by them. The State party should ensure the procedures for requesting such cooperation are clear and well-known to the civil authorities and that requests for cooperation are responded to promptly. (Paragraph 12)
Investigation and complaints mechanism: The Committee also welcomes information provided that the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, established by Pope Francis, will seek to ensure accountability and its members have announced that they plan to make specific proposals on raising awareness “regarding the tragic consequences of sexual abuse and of the devastating consequences of not listening, not reporting suspicion of abuse, and failing to support victims/survivors and their families”. To date there has been no information provided to the Committee as to the Pontifical Commission’s term, investigative powers, and ability to report publicly.

The State party should:

  • Establish an independent complaints mechanisms to which victims of alleged violations of the Convention can confidentially report allegations of abuse and which has the power to cooperate with the State party’s authorities as well as civil authorities in the location where the alleged abuse occurred;
  • Ensure that organs charged with carrying out investigations into allegations of violations of the Convention by public officials of the Vatican City State, including the Office of the Promoter of Justice, are independent with no hierarchical connection between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators. Ensure that such bodies carry out investigations promptly, thoroughly, and impartially; and
  • Clarify whether the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors established in December 2013 will have the full power to investigate cases of alleged violations of the Convention, ensure that the results of any of its investigations are made public and that they are promptly acted upon by officials with a prosecutorial function, within a specific deadline. (Paragraph 14)

Access to justice: The Committee is also concerned about the State party’s response to the continued refusal by the four religious orders that ran the Magdalene laundries in Ireland to contribute to a redress fund for individuals subjected to abuse in those facilities. The Committee recalls that in accordance with General Comment No. 3, the concept of redress includes restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and the right to truth, and guarantees of non-repetition.
The State party should:

  • In accordance with article 14 of the Convention and General Comment No. 3, take steps to ensure that victims of sexual abuse committed by or with the acquiescence of the State party’s officials receive redress, including fair, adequate and enforceable right to compensation and as full rehabilitation as possible, regardless of whether perpetrators of such acts have been brought to justice. Appropriate measures should be taken to ensure the physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of the victims of abuse; and
  • Encourage the provision of redress by individual religious orders to victims of violations of the Convention carried out by them and take additional steps to ensure that victims obtain redress as needed, including in the case of the Magdalene Laundries. (Paragraph 16)


UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

No visits made.

UN Committee on Migrant Workers

Not yet signed or ratified.

UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Not yet signed or ratified.

UN Committee on Enforced Disappearance

Not yet signed or ratified.


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