U.N. panel blasts Vatican over sex abuse, church teachings
The report demanded that the Vatican immediately turn over to criminal investigators any known or suspected abusers and end its "code of silence" by enforcing rules ordering dioceses to report abuse to local authorities. It also called on the Vatican to open its archives on sexual allegations against clerics.
The range of the report appeared to infuriate the Vatican, which last month sent two top officials to appear before the U.N. panel in Geneva for the first public accounting of the Holy See's handling of abuse allegations. Officials said they were still studying the findings, but responded angrily to what they described as recommendations that are ideologically biased. They said the United Nations had no right to weigh in on church teachings.
"Trying to ask the Holy See to change its teachings is not negotiable," Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio. He suggested that gay-rights groups had influenced the commission.
The Vatican had been bracing for the report. After widespread revelations of sexual abuse by clerics in Europe in 2010, the U.N. committee, which has its headquarters in Geneva, began an inquiry last year. The Vatican declined the panel's request to review internal files and data on abuse cases.
The report said the church in some places had "systemically" adopted policies that put children at risk. In some cases, confidentiality has been imposed on child victims and their families as a condition of financial compensation. The panel also said Catholic officials obstructed efforts in certain countries to extend the statute of limitations for criminal or civil cases.
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 report concluded.
The panel condemned church doctrine that it considers out of step with the principles of human rights and child welfare. In blunt language, the committee took particular aim at church stances on sexual orientation, reproductive health, and gender equality.
The report from the committee - made up of 18 experts including child-welfare advocates and academics - called on the Vatican to adopt reforms and update the panel by 2017.
U.N. officials in Geneva described the probe as only one of many periodic reviews it conducts of sovereign states that are signatories of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Holy See ratified in 1990. They said the panel's report veered beyond the sexual-abuse cases because it found the other topics relevant to the Vatican's compliance with all articles of the convention. The United States is one of three U.N. member states that have not ratified it.
Officials dismissed suggestions from the Vatican that the report was biased.
"Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is something that we have raised with many states," Kirsten Sandberg, chair of the committee, said in a statement. "This is nothing special. We are not going outside the scope of the Convention."
For more than a decade, the church has been periodically rocked by widespread allegations of sexual abuse in the United States, Europe, and beyond. The church response has varied by nation, and the report Wednesday does not address safety measures from country to country.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that "anyone bringing attention to the problem [of sex abuse] is moving toward solving it." But she strongly criticized the United Nations for weaving issues such as contraception and abortion into the report.
"Unfortunately, they weakened it by throwing in the whole kitchen sink," she said Wednesday. "Those are culture-war issues. Sex abuse isn't a culture-war issue - it's a sin and a crime."