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Vatican policies allowed sex abuse of children, says UN

Human rights committee raises issues from gay rights to abortion

05 February, 15:10
Vatican policies allowed sex abuse of children, says UN (ANSA) - Geneva, February 5 - A United Nations human rights committee denounced the Vatican's behavior in hiding decades of sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children by clergymen in a report Wednesday.

The U.N. committee on the Rights of the Child also urged the Vatican to hand over its archives on sexual abuse so that culprits and "those who concealed their crimes" could face justice.

In a wide-ranging and scathing report, the committee also called on the Holy See to "immediately remove" all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers and turn them over to civil authorities.

It added that it is "gravely concerned" that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed.

Nor has the Church taken measures to protect and deal with sexual abuse of children, it added.

In response, the Holy See said the report was "attempting to interfere with Catholic Church teaching" on some points, with regard to "the exercise of religious freedom". A Vatican spokesman also repeated "its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child" and vowed to "study and examine" the UN report in full.

The report comes less than a month after senior Vatican officials faced a day of grilling at a UN hearing in Geneva over a worldwide sexual abuse scandal - one of the first times the Vatican has 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. Its recommendations are not binding on the Vatican, although the UN has asked that it implement its suggests and report back in 2017.

The Vatican was 14 years late submitting its most recent report.

In Wednesday's report, the committee complained of a "code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication" that shielded abusers and meant that rarely were cases made public and revealed to police. In addition to concerns about sexual abuse hidden by the Church, the committee also reviewed other practices of the Holy See that touch on the lives of children including several deep-rooted policies on controversial topics including abortion and homosexuality.

The committee said the Vatican should review its veto of abortions that save the lives of mothers, voicing "deepest concern" over the case of a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who had a life-saving abortion in 2009 after she was raped by her stepfather.

An archbishop later sanctioned the mother of the girl as well as the doctor who performed the abortion, a measure upheld by the head of the Roman Catholic Church's Congregation of Bishops, the report said.

It also urged the Vatican to make "full use" of its moral authority to support efforts at decriminalizing homosexuality, particularly when it touches on the rights of children who parents are gay. Homosexuality is outlawed in some countries and Russia recently gained international attention for a law banning the promotion of "non-traditional" sexuality - widely seen as an attack on gay rights. 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.

To that end, 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.