Give up priests who abused children, UN tells Pope

Kirsten Sandberg, chairperson of the UN human rights committee on the rights of the child, speaks to the press. Picture: APKirsten Sandberg, chairperson of the UN human rights committee on the rights of the child, speaks to the press. Picture: AP
Kirsten Sandberg, chairperson of the UN human rights committee on the rights of the child, speaks to the press. Picture: AP
The United Nations yesterday accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse of children by priests and demanded it immediately turn over known or suspected offenders to civil justice.

The scathing report claimed the Catholic Church has protected priests who abused “tens of thousands” of children.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which released the report, yesterday told the Vatican to remove all suspects from their posts immediately and open up its confidential archives in order “to hold abusers accountable”.

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The report stated: “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 Vatican, which signed

the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, has “consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests,” said the report, accusing the Church of transferring abusive priests to new parishes, where many have continued to abuse children, and by “humiliating” the families of victims into silence.

The report strongly urged the Vatican to oblige its priests and bishops to take all reports about abuse to the police and end a “code of silence” under which whistle blowers were “ostracised, demoted and fired”.

As a first step, the report urged the Vatican to appoint victims groups to the commission created by Pope Francis in December to investigate abuse, and asked the Vatican to report back on progress made by 2017.

Although the UN committee’s recommendations are non-binding, they are a challenge to the Pope, whose popularity has soared since he was elected.

Yesterday, Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the UK National Secular Society, which gave evidence to the UN committee, said: “Pope Francis has already missed opportunities to assert his authority to reverse the Church’s damaging policies over clerical abuse, and unless he responds positively and quickly to the demands of the Committee, he risks history judging his whole papacy a failure.”

But, in a sharply worded response, the Holy See’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva attacked the report, calling it “surprising” and full of “incorrect” statements. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi alleged the UN had ignored steps taken by the Vatican in recent years to root out abuse.

Speaking on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Tomasi suggested that non-governmental organisations that oppose the Vatican’s positions on homosexuality and gay marriage had influenced the UN report, giving it an “ideological” slant.

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The report singled out the Vatican’s lack of action against nuns running the Magdalene laundries in Ireland where girls were kept in “slavery-like conditions” and subjected to “physical and sexual abuse”.

Alan Draper, a former head of social work who worked with the Catholic Church in Scotland on child protection issues, said yesterday: “This a devastating report, harsh but accurate in its criticism.

“The Vatican has responded in recent years, but only after public and media pressure. The Scottish situation has followed

a similar pattern. The Church has rejected the abused and been content to let insurance companies and lawyers fight the victims in court.”

The Catholic Church in Scotland recently announced a historical review of child abuse cases. It made no comment last night.