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UN accuses Vatican of allowing child sex abuse

Holy See says report went too far including gay rights, abortion

05 February, 20:10
UN accuses Vatican of allowing child sex abuse (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, February 5 - A United Nations human rights committee denounced the Vatican for adopting policies that it said allowed sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children by clergymen in a scathing report Wednesday that demanded immediate action.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child 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 report, it 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, adding that it was "gravely concerned" that the Holy See had not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed.

Nor has the Church taken measures to protect children and deal with sexual abuse, it added. The Vatican broke the 1989 United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child in its response to child sex abuse by the clergy, the committee head said in releasing the report.

"The simple answer is yes, they are in breach of the Convention as up to now, because they haven't done all the things that they should have done," said Kirsten Sandberg, the Norwegian head of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. "We expect the Holy See to follow up on these recommendations ... to protect victims and give them compensation," Sandberg told a press conference in Geneva.

In response, the Holy See's Secretary of State Pietro Parolin pledged to consider the report carefully while a Vatican spokesman said that a plan to improve Church transparency in how it deals with cases of child sex abuse would be released "in the coming days or weeks".

"There will be an articulate response," Parolin said.

"For our part we must reiterate our willingness to (cooperate) with the committee and the Convention (on the Rights of the Child)," added Parolin. In a prepared statement, the Vatican was less diplomatic.

"The Holy See does ... regret to see in some points of the concluding observations (of the UN report) an attempt to interfere with Catholic church teaching on the dignity of (the) human person and in the exercise of religious freedom," read a Vatican statement. The report comes less than a month after senior Vatican officials faced a day of grilling at a UN hearing in Geneva over the 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 suggestions 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. Other officials complained that elements of the report went too far in what the UN committee said were issues that affected children by affecting their families: homosexuality and abortion.

"They went very far beyond the call of duty," one unnamed Vatican source told ANSA while officials expressed "surprise" that the UN would involve itself in issues that Parolin called matters of Church doctrine.

The committee, which also examined child pornography and child soldiers, 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.

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 whose parents are gay. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio the report had failed to take into account the fact that the Vatican had made "a series of changes for the protection of children".

Since his election last March, Pope Francis has 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.

The UN report also said the Vatican needed to begin a full investigation into Ireland's Magdalene Laundries scandal that saw thousands of young women abused in laundries run by Irish nuns.

And while the pope did not comment on the report, he met Wednesday with a woman who has become famous for her experiences in one of those laundries.

Francis met with Philomena Lee, whose story of her search for her son, given up for adoption 50 years earlier, recently became an Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie "Philomena", starring Judi Dench.