Concluding Observations for the Holy See's 2nd Periodic Report


Below is a short summary of some of the key issues from the Committee on the Rights of the Child's 65th session concluding observations for the Holy See. Read the full text, and you can find other documents related to the Committee's 65th session (including alternative reports submitted by NGOs and the Committee's concluding observations for other States reviewed in this session) on the Committee’s session page. Please note that this is not an official UN summary.

Jurisdiction of the Holy See: The Committee is aware of the dual nature of the Holy See’s ratification of the Convention as the government of the Vatican City State, and also as a sovereign subject of international law having an original, non-derived legal personality independent of any territorial authority or jurisdiction. While being fully conscious that bishops and major superiors of religious institutes do not act as representatives or delegates of the Roman Pontiff, the Committee nevertheless notes that subordinates in Catholic religious orders are bound by obedience to the Pope in accordance with Canon law.

The Committee reminds the Holy See that by ratifying the Convention, 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.

While welcoming the Holy See’s approach to ensuring that the legislation of the Vatican City State complies with the Convention, the Committee regrets that the same approach has not been followed in relation to its internal laws, including Canon Law. The Committee is also concerned that some of the rules of Canon Law are not in conformity with the provisions of the Convention, in particular those relating to children‘s rights to be protected against discrimination, violence and all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.

The Committee recommends that the Holy See undertake a comprehensive review of its normative framework, in particular Canon Law, with a view to ensuring its full compliance with the Convention.

  • Read a commentary by CRIN’s legal researcher for more on the jurisdiction of the Holy See.

Child sexual abuse: The Committee expresses its deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide.

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 Committee is particularly concerned that in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, 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.

The Committee strongly urges the Holy See to:

  • Ensure that the Commission created in December 2013 will investigate independently all cases of child sexual abuse as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them. The Holy See should consider inviting civil society and victims organisations to join this Commission and international human rights mechanisms to support its work. The outcome of this investigation should be made public and serve to prevent the recurrence of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

  • 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.

  • Ensure a transparent sharing of all archives which can be used to hold the abusers accountable as well as all those who concealed their crimes and knowingly placed offenders in contact with children.

  • Amend Canon Law in order for child sexual abuse to be considered as crimes and not as “delicts against the moral” and repeal all provisions which may impose an obligation of silence on the victims and on all those that become aware of such crimes.

  • Establish clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation to law enforcement authorities.

  • Ensure that all priests, religious personnel and individuals working under the authority of the Holy See are made aware of their reporting obligations and of the fact that in case of conflict, these obligations prevail over Canon law provisions;

  • Develop programmes and policies for the prevention of such crimes and for the recovery and social reintegration of child victims.

  • Develop educational preventive programmes to increase children’s awareness of sexual abuse and to teach them the necessary skills with which to protect themselves.

Read CRIN’s preliminary report, “Child sexual abuse and the Holy See: the need for justice, accountability and reform”, which maps the global scale of this children’s rights violation in the Catholic Church.

Access to justice: The Committee is particularly concerned that:

  • Child victims and their families have often been blamed by religious authorities, discredited and discouraged from pursuing their complaints and in some instances humiliated.

  • Confidentiality has been imposed on child victims and their families as a precondition of financial compensation.

  • Although it has extended its own statute of limitations (i.e. time limit on when a case can be brought), the Holy See has in some instances obstructed efforts in certain countries to extend the statute of limitation for child sexual abuse.

The Committee recommends the Holy See be guided by respect for the best interests of the child and urges the Holy See to:

  • Develop comprehensive procedures for the early identification of child victims of sexual and other forms of abuse;

  • Ensure accessible, confidential, child-friendly and effective reporting channels for children who are victims or witnesses of sexual abuse and ensure that child victims of sexual abuse or any other crimes are protected from future abuse and from retaliation when reporting abuse.

  • Provide compensation to victims of sexual abuse committed by individuals and institutions under the Holy See’s authority without imposing any obligation of confidentiality on the victims and establish a compensation scheme for victims.

  • Promote the reform of statute of limitations in countries where they impede victims of child sexual abuse from seeking justice and redress.

See CRIN’s guide to child-friendly justice for more. You can also read CRIN’s justice theme page, and the law section of our website contains a lot of information on access to justice for children.

Torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment: The Committee is concerned that the Holy See has not protected and ensure justice for girls arbitrarily placed by their families, State institutions and churches in the Magdalene laundries of Ireland run by four congregations of Catholic Sisters until 1996. The Committee recommends the Holy See ensure that full compensation be paid to the victims and their families either through the congregations themselves or through the Holy See as supreme power of the Church with legally responsibility for its subordinates in Catholic religious orders placed under its authority.

Access to information and services (sexual and reproductive health): The Committee is seriously concerned about the negative consequences of the Holy See’s position and practices of denying adolescents’ access to contraception, as well as to sexual and reproductive health and information.

The Committee recommends that the Holy See ensures:

  • The right of adolescents to have access to adequate information essential for their health and development and for their ability to participate meaningfully in society.

  • That sexual and reproductive health education and prevention of HIV/AIDS is part of the mandatory curriculum of Catholic schools.

  • That the views of the pregnant adolescent always be heard and respected in the field of reproductive health.

See CRIN’s civil and political rights and health and welfare theme pages for more.

Sale, trafficking and abduction: The Committee is deeply concerned that thousands of babies have been forcibly withdrawn from their mothers by members of Catholic congregations in a number of countries and subsequently placed in orphanages or given to adoptive parents abroad. The Committee is particularly concerned that although responsible congregations were placed under its authority, the Holy See did not conduct an internal investigation into these cases and failed to take action against those responsible. The Committee is also concerned that the Holy See did not provide information on the measures taken to trace these children’s whereabouts and to reunite them, where possible, with their biological mothers.

The Committee urges the Holy See to open an internal investigation into all cases of removal of babies from their mothers and fully cooperate with relevant national law enforcement authorities in holding those responsible accountable. The Committee also urges the Holy See to ensure that the Catholic religious congregations involved fully disclose all the information they have on the whereabouts of these children in order for them, where possible, to be reunited with their biological mothers and to take all necessary measures to prevent the occurrence of similar practices in the future.

  • See the Committee’s concluding observations for the Holy See on the optional protocol to the Convention on the sale of the children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Corporal punishment: The Committee welcomes the statement during the interactive dialogue that the delegation of the Holy See will take the proposal of banning corporal punishment of children in all settings back for consideration. However, the Committee is concerned that while corporal punishment has been and remains widespread in some Catholic institutions and reached endemic levels in certain countries, the Holy See still does not consider corporal punishment as being prohibited by the Convention and has  not enacted guidelines and rules clearly banning corporal punishment of children in Catholic institutions.

The Committee reminds the Holy See that all forms of violence against children are unacceptable and that the Convention leaves no room for any level of violence against children. The Committee also reminds the Holy See of its obligation under article 19 of the Convention to take all appropriate measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence.

Non-discrimination: The Committee welcomes the information provided by the Holy See that it has initiated a review of its legislation with a view to withdrawing the discriminatory expression “illegitimate children”.

The Committee is concerned about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatisation of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples.

The Committee is concerned that the Holy See and church-run institutions do not recognise the existence of diverse forms of families and often discriminate children on the basis of their family situation. The Committee recommends that the Holy See ensure that Canon Law provisions recognise the diversity of family settings and do not discriminate children based on the type of family they live in.

The Committee recommends that the Holy See bring all its laws and regulations, as well as its policies and practices, in conformity with article 2 the Convention and promptly abolish the discriminatory classification of children “born out of wedlock” as illegitimate children. The Committee also urges the Holy See to make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

  • Read CRIN’s guide to how discrimination affects children’s ability to enjoy all their rights under the Convention.

Civil and political rights: The Committee is concerned that the Holy See restrictively interprets children’s right to express their views in all matters affecting them, as well as their rights to freedom of expression, association and religion. The Committee is also concerned that the Holy See continues to view the rights enshrined in article 12 of the Convention (right to be heard) as undermining the rights and duties of parents.

The Committee reminds the Holy See that the right of children to freely express their views constitutes one of the most essential components of children’s dignity and that ensuring this right is a legal obligation under the Convention, which leaves no leeway for the discretion of the States parties.



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