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’s initial report on the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC).
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 65th session page. Please note that these are not official UN summaries.
Jurisdiction of the Holy See: While fully aware that bishops and major superiors of religious institutes do not act as representatives or delegates of the Roman Pontiff, the Committee notes that subordinates in Catholic religious orders are bound by obedience of the Pope in Canon Law.
The Committee therefore reminds the Holy See that by ratifying the Optional Protocol, it has committed itself to implementing it 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 supreme authority.
Read a commentary by CRIN’s legal researcher for more on the jurisdiction of the Holy See.
Right to be heard and access to justice: The Committee is concerned that the Holy See has undermined the prevention of offences under the Optional Protocol and the capacity of child victims to report them and therefore contributed to the impunity of the perpetrators and created further trauma for child victims of offences.
The Committee recommends that the Holy See ensure that the rights of child victims of sale, prostitution and pornography to express their views and to have their best interests taken as a primary consideration.
The Committee is deeply concerned that Canon laws which have been and continue to be applied to offences under the Optional Protocol do not contain any provision on the protection of rights and interests of child victims, and in many cases, child victims and their families have been re-victimised by the Church authorities.
The Committee urges the Holy See to protect the rights and interests of child victims of all offences under the Optional Protocol and to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in the treatment afforded by the criminal justice system to child victims. The Committee urges the Holy See to:
Establish without further delay child-friendly mechanisms and procedures for complaints, remedy or redress in relation to all offences under the Protocol.
Establish mechanisms and procedures for the early identification of child victims of the offences under the Optional Protocol, including by establishing cooperation mechanisms with national law enforcement authorities.
Ensure that child victims are no longer victimised by church authorities when they denounce crimes under the Optional Protocol.
Access to justice and remedies: The Committee is also particularly concerned that confidentiality has been imposed as a condition of financial compensation to child victims of abuses under the Optional Protocol.
The Committee urges the Holy See to fulfil its obligation to provide compensation to victims of offences committed by individuals and institutions under its authority without imposing any obligation of confidentiality on the victims. The Holy See should establish a compensation scheme for victims of offences under the Optional Protocol committed by clerics.
Access to justice - prosecution and impunity: The Committee is particularly concerned that:
Canon Law provisions and proceedings which have allowed perpetrators to escape justice by imposing an obligation of silence on victims, prevented the reporting of cases to national law enforcement authorities and provided punishment with no relation to the gravity of the offences committed, are still in force and applied.
On numerous occasions, the Holy See has refused to cooperate with law enforcement authorities and to disclose information requested by prosecutors and national commissions of inquiry.
The Holy See has signed treaties with certain States, notably Italy, which guarantee areas of immunity from prosecution to Vatican officials, including for bishops and priests accused of offences under the Optional Protocol.
The Committee urges the Holy See to repeal without delay all Canon Law provisions which have created an environment favouring the impunity of perpetrators of crimes under the Optional Protocol. The Holy See should also amend its internal guidelines and ensure a transparent and effective cooperation with national law enforcement authorities. The Committee further urges the Holy See to revoke parts of any treaty it has signed with States which would contribute to the impunity of perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
Access to justice - extradition of perpetrators: The Committee is particularly concerned that the Holy See in January 2014 refused the requests of a Polish prosecutor to extradite an Archbishop from the Vatican to Poland to face charges, including child pornography.
The Committee urges the Holy See to use the Optional Protocol as a legal basis for extradition and to proceed with the extradition of any clerics facing charges of child sexual abuse abroad.
- 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.
Child pornography: The Committee is particularly concerned about cases of priests producing, possessing and diffusing child pornography who have knowingly been kept in contact with children.
The Committee urges the Holy See to ensure the immediate removal of all priests suspected of child pornography and other crimes under the Optional Protocol and adopt without delay regulations, guidelines and mechanisms to effectively prevent children from becoming victims of offences under the Protocol.
Sale of children / Adoption: The Committee expresses deep concern about the discovery in 2011 that thousands of babies had been removed from their mothers in maternity wards in Spain and sold by networks of doctors, priests and nuns to childless couples who were considered as more appropriate parents. The Committee is also concerned that similar practices were also carried out in other countries such as in Ireland where girls detained in the Ireland Magdalene laundries had their babies systematically taken away from them.
The Committee urges the Holy See to ensure that individuals and institutions placed under its authority who have organised, participated and assisted in the removal of babies from their mothers and their transfer for remuneration or any consideration to childless couples, individuals or institutions be held accountable. The Committee urges the Holy See to ensure a full disclosure of all information gathered by the institutions and individuals involved in these offences in order to facilitate victims’ access to information on their biological filiation.
The Committee is concerned that although many Catholic institutions and organisations are involved in inter-country adoptions, the Holy See has not taken the necessary measures to ensure that Catholic institutions do not engage in unlawful adoption.
The Committee urges the Holy See to adopt as a matter of priority appropriate legal and administrative measures to ensure that all individuals and institutions under its authority that are involved in the adoption of a child, act in conformity with applicable international legal instruments.
The Holy See was also reviewed for its adherence to and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child during the Committee’s 65th session. Read those concluding observations.
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 sexual violence against children in the Catholic Church.
See CRIN’s campaign to end sexual violence in religious institutions.