5 Feb 2014

Child abuse and the Catholic church: is the Vatican still resisting reform?

In some ways, the damning UN report into the Vatican’s handling of child abuse is no surprise, but the details still hold the power to appal.

Priests who were well known abusers were moved from parish to parish or sent abroad.

Tens of thousands of children across the world suffered while the Vatican, with its code of silence, allowed the vast majority of their abusers to evade justice.

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Nuns and priests who did speak out were ostracised and condemned. Priests who refused to denounce child abusers were congratulated.

This was a Church which put its reputation above the safety and well being of children.

Perhaps worst of all, the report says,  the evidence it has gathered proves children are still at risk from abuse by priests allowed to live and work unchecked in many countries across the world.

The Vatican has issued a rather wordy statement today which in essence says the Holy See “takes note of the observations in the report” and promises that it will be subject to a thorough study and examination.

But  it will be judged by what it actually does in the coming months to respond to this scathing report.

When he was elected last year Pope Francis said the church’s credibility rested on how it tackled the issue of child abuse which has so beleaguered his church.

He expressed his compassion for victims and set up a new Vatican commission, encouraging many within and without the Catholic church to believe that he was determined to bring about real change.

But the UN Committee say the church has proved itself neither capable nor willing to properly root out abuse. It issues an urgent demand for the Vatican to remove all clergy known or suspected of abuse and hand them over to  the authorities.

At an earlier committee hearing, the Vatican refused calls to even hand over their data on abuse cases, so the idea they will hand over abusers themselves seems unlikely.


The UN Committee’s recommendations are not binding – nor has it any powers of enforcement. But its report is a brutal reminder of the open wound which remains at the heart of the Catholic Church, a reminder of the tens of thousands of children still waiting for justice.

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