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Vatican confronted by U.N. on child sex abuse

Holy See official says crimes against children 'never' right

16 January, 18:43
Vatican confronted by U.N. on child sex abuse (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Vatican City, January 16 - Attempts by Pope Francis to change the image of the Catholic Church were put to the test Thursday as senior Vatican officials faced grilling before a United Nations hearing in Geneva over the world wide sexual abuse scandal.

The hearings come as a U.N. committee wraps up its examination of whether the Holy See has complied with the U.N.

Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it ratified in 1990.

The Vatican has rarely been confronted in so public a venue over its record on handling reports of abuse by children at the hands of priests in parishes in the Europe, the United States, and other countries.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer to the U.N. in Geneva, told the hearings that "there is no excuse for any form of violence or exploitation of children".

"Such crimes can never be justified," added Tomasi, who was accompanied by Bishop Charles Scicluna, a former Vatican sex abuse prosecutor.

"Any crime is a bad thing, but when there are children involved, it becomes even more severe," added Tomasi.

He told the U.N. panel that it was important to establish the truth of what had happened in the past, to prevent it ever happening again, to see justice done.

The Vatican would welcome suggestions from the U.N. panel to implement its obligations, said Tomasi.

"The Holy See gets it," added Scicluna. "There are certain things that need to be done differently".

Since his election last March, Pope Francis has tried to put his own stamp on the Church by living a simple life, preaching compassion, and dealing with many long-running issues including financial scandals. Upon being named pope, Francis also said that dealing with sex abuse in the Church was crucial to maintaining its credibility.

In early December, he announced that a Vatican committee would be set up to advise him on how the Church could protect children and help victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

At the same time, he also expanded the definition of crimes against minors to include sexual abuse of children.

Still, in November, the Church refused to respond to a request made by the U.N. five months earlier for information on abuse cases dating back to 1995.

In its response the Holy See said it did not normally disclose information about the religious discipline of clergy members unless that was specifically requested by the authorities in the country where they were serving.

It stressed that it had changed the criteria for choosing priests and revised Church law to ensure clergy were properly disciplined.

It also insisted that, as a diplomatic entity, it was "separate and distinct" from the Roman Catholic Church.

In that reaction, the Holy See was not trying to obstruct justice because it believes that countries must prosecute "every crime against minors," said Tomasi.

In a statement, the Church said it is "committed to implementing its international obligations, including those arising from the ratification of the (U.N.) Convention on the Rights of the Child". Critics have said the measures taken thus far by the Church have not gone far enough and victims say the Holy See has not yet taken full responsibility for the abuse that occurred under its watch.

This U.N. committee, comprised of independent experts, is reportedly expected to give its final recommendations - which are not binding on the Vatican - on February 5.