A United Nations (UN) committee is concerned that well-known sexual abusers were moved from parish to parish and across borders as part of a cover-up that ‘allowed priests to rape’.
The UN watchdog for children’s rights denounced the Holy See for adopting policies which allowed priests to sexually abuse thousands of children. In a report, it also criticised Vatican attitudes towards homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
Kirsten Sandberg from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said a “code of silence” had been imposed on children. The UN has said that the Vatican should “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers.
The Vatican responded by saying it would examine the report and promised ‘through study’ of the criticisms. However, they accused its authors of interference and rejected some of the points made by the UN.
In its findings, the UN committee said the Holy See should open its files on members of the clergy who had “concealed their crimes” so that they could be held accountable by the authorities. The opening of files is also a view shared by many campaigners.
It said it was gravely concerned that the Holy See had not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed. It also criticised the “practice of offenders’ mobility”, referring to the transfer of child abusers from parish to parish within countries, and sometimes abroad. The committee said this practice placed “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”.
The UN report called on a Vatican commission created by Pope Francis in December to investigate all cases of child sexual abuse “as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them”.
In January, the Vatican confirmed that almost 400 priests had been defrocked in a two-year period by the former Pope Benedict XVI over claims of child abuse.
The report’s findings come after Vatican officials were questioned in public last month in Geneva about why they would not release data and what they were doing to prevent future abuse. The Vatican has denied any official cover-up. However, in December it refused a UN request for data on abuse on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.
The UN committee’s recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism but victims groups welcomed the report as a wake-up call to secular law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute Church officials who were still protecting “predator priests”.
Barbara Blaine, president of a group representing US victims of abuse by priests – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) – told the BBC that the UN report “reaffirms everything we’ve been saying. It shows that the Vatican has put the reputation of Church officials above protection of children. Church officials knew about it and they refused to stop it. Nothing has changed. Despite all the rhetoric from Pope Francis and Vatican officials, they refuse to take action that will make this stop.”