5 Feb 2014

Vatican policies ‘allowed priests to rape children’ – UN

A scathing UN report calls on the Vatican to “immediately remove” all clergy known or suspected of child abuse, and says the church put its reputation before the protection of children.

A mass takes place behind St Peter's statue, in the Vatican City's St Peter's Square (R)

Photo: A mass takes place behind St Peter’s statue, in the Vatican City’s St Peter’s Square

The United Nations (UN) has demanded immediate action from the Catholic Church’s ruling officials, and found that policies adopted by the Vatican allowed priests to sexually abuse thousands of children, and helped cover up widespread abuse.

The UN watchdog for children’s rights called for all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers to be immediately handed over to civil authorities.

The verdict of the Vatican’s handling of sex abuse allegations is the most damning yet, and follows the public grilling of Vatican officials last month. The devastating report also denounced the Holy See for its policies on homosexuality, abortion and contraception.

The Vatican has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators – UN

In response to the report, the Vatican said that the Catholic Church was committed to protecting children from abuse. It added that the UN was interfering with church teaching on homosexuality and contraception, but that it would submit the report to a “thorough study and examination”.

Pope Francis set up a commission to deal with child abuse in the church in December.

However the UN has said that Vatican’s archive of sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children should also be handed over to authorities, so that the culprits could be held accountable.

UN ‘gravely concerned’

The blunt report said: “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 Catholic Church is accused by the UN of systematic cover-up. The report found that abusers had been moved from parish to parish or other countries “in an attempt to cover-up such crimes.”

“Due to a code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication, cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where such crimes occurred,” the UN committee said.

Victims ‘owed compensation’

It is also accused of failing to take measures to prevent a repeat of cases such as Ireland’s Magdalene laundries scandal, where girls were kept in conditions of forced labour.

The UN committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that there had no been action taken to investigate what had happened there until 1996 at the hands of the Catholic Sisters, which included “inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment” and “physical and sexual abuse”.

The UN called for an internal investigation of the laundries and similar institutions so that the victims and their families could receive “full compensation”, and that those responsible could be prosecuted.

At a public session in December last year, the committee pushed Vatican delegates to reveal the scope of the decades-long sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests that Pope Francis called “the shame of the Church”.

The Holy See’s delegation was called to answer questions from an international rights panel for the first time since the scandals broke more than two decades ago.

Officials denied allegations of a Vatican cover-up and said it had set clear guidelines to protect children from predator priests.