A human rights committee set up by the United Nations denounced the Vatican for its alleged involvement with child sex abuse, as well as repressive policies on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. According to the committee, the Vatican “systematically” adopted policies that allowed priests to molest and rape tens of thousands of children over decades. While denouncing the Vatican on February 5, the committee also urged the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles who concealed their crimes.
In the shocking report, the committee also criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward abortion, contraception and homosexuality, saying it must change its own laws to make sure children’s rights and their access to health-care are guaranteed. The report puts Pope Francis under renewed pressure to create a commission that will investigate reported cases of sex abuse and recommend solutions to fight it. The report also urges the Holy See to implement clear rules that will allow victims to report abuse to the police, even after the statute of limitations has expired.
The Vatican did not take long to object. The Vatican’s ambassador to the United Nations accused the human rights committee of having betrayed its own objectives by allowing itself to be influenced by ‘pro-gay’ ideologies. He said that the committee had not taken into consideration the measures taken by the Holy See to protect children.
The commission was announced in December 2013 when the Holy See underwent a day-long interrogation on its implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a key treaty to which the Vatican ratified in 1990.
Evidently, the committee rejected the Holy See’s long-standing argument that it does not control abusive bishops or priests and it is the responsibility of the local authorities to have them convicted. Instead, the committee insisted that, “as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority,” it was the responsibility of the Holy See to implement the treaty not only in the Vatican City State but also across the world.
In its report, the human rights committee also denounced the Vatican’s ‘code of silence,’ saying the Holy See had “systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.” It asked the Holy See to compensate victims and hold accountable not only abusers but also those who helped to cover up the crimes.
To date, the Vatican has not sanctioned a single Catholic bishop for sheltering an abusive priest and it was only in 2010 that the Holy See directed its bishops to report abusers to the police, wherever law enforcement required it. Vatican officials themselves have said that bishop accountability happens to be a major problem.
Even though most of the report focused on child sex abuse, it did touch upon other issues like discrimination against children, their rights to proper health-care and matters that stem from core church teachings including life and sexual morals.
Austen Ivereigh, coordinator of church advocacy group Catholic Voices, said the report failed to acknowledge the progress that the Vatican has made in recent years. He noted that the committee failed to distinguish between the responsibilities and jurisdiction of the Holy See and local churches. However, different victims groups hailed the report as a wake-up call for secular law enforcement officials to investigate cases of abuse and cover-ups and prosecute those that are involved.
While the committee’s report is non-binding and has no enforcement mechanism, the United Nations ordered the Vatican to implement necessary changes and report by 2017. It must be noted that the Vatican was 14 years late in submitting its latest report.
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