Pilgrims wait in the rain for a glimpse of Pope Francis at St Peter’s Square, Vatican. (AFP)
Geneva, Feb. 5 :A UN panel sharply criticised the Vatican today for putting the reputation and interests of the Holy See above the interests of children who had been sexually abused by priests, effectively allowing priests to continue abuse and escape prosecution.
The Vatican, responding to the report, said today that the Roman Catholic Church was committed to “defending and protecting the rights of the child”.
A statement said the Vatican would submit the report to “thorough study and examination”. But it also said the world body was interfering in Catholic moral teachings because the report criticised its positions on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
In a series of hard-hitting observations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child said 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 panel expressed particular concern that “in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests”.
The criticism came in the concluding observations of a UN panel that examined the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention of the Rights of the Child in a hearing last month attended by senior Vatican officials, including Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, who was the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of sexual abuse until 2012.
The panel noted the Holy See’s commitment to upholding the “inviolable” dignity of children but pointed out that it had moved priests well-known as child abusers to different parishes in an attempt to hide their crimes, allowing them and to remain in contact with children and to continue their abuse.
In doing so, the Vatican “still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children”, it said.
At last month’s hearing, the first time the Vatican had faced public examination by an international body, Monsignor Scicluna said “the Holy See gets it” that certain things “need to be done differently” but argued that legal action to prosecute and punish abusers was the responsibility of civil authorities.
The panel challenged that position and criticised the Vatican’s lack of transparency in dealing with the issues. The Holy See established its full jurisdiction over clerical child sex abuse cases in 1962, the panel noted, and in 2001 placed them under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a body responsible for upholding discipline, among other things.
Far from cooperating with national law enforcement officials, the church authorities, “including at the highest levels of the Holy See” had avoided, and in some cases explicitly rejected, cooperation with the judicial authorities, the panel said.
The Holy See had imposed a code of silence on all clergy, and cases of child abuse had rarely been reported to law enforcement agencies.
The panel also rejected the Vatican’s contention that it was responsible for implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child only on the territory of the Vatican City.