UN condemns Vatican over handling of clerical sex abuse of children
Holy See pressed by children’s rights committee about ways abusive priests were transferred rather than reported to police
A UN panel has condemned the Vatican’s handling of the global priest sex abuse scandal during a hearing in which representatives of the Holy See were questioned in public for the first over allegations that it protected clerics at the expense of their young victims.
“The Holy See gets it,” he told the UN committee. “Let’s not say too late or not. But there are certain things that need to be done differently.”
Scicluna added that prosecutors across the world should take action anyone, clerical or lay, who obstructs justice.
He was responding to questioning over claims that the Vatican had repeatedly failed to abide by terms of the UN convention on the rights of the child, which calls for signatories to take all appropriate measures to keep the young from harm. Critics allege the Catholic church enabled the rape of thousands of children by protecting paedophile priests to defend its reputation.
The committee’s main human rights investigator, Sara Oviedo, pressed Scicluna and other Vatican representatives before the hearing on how abusive priests were transferred rather than reported to the police. Given the church’s “zero tolerance” policy, she asked, why were there “efforts to cover up and obscure these types of cases”.
Another committee member, Maria Rita Parsi, an Italian psychologist and psychotherapist, asked: “If these events continue to be hidden and covered up, to what extent will children be affected?”
The Holy See ratified the convention in 1990 and submitted a first implementation report in 1994. But it failed to submit a progress report until 2012 following criticism over a plethora of clerical sex abuse cases that emerged two years early.
Victims groups and human rights organisations have pressed the UN committee to challenge the Vatican over its record of handling priests who sexually abuse children, providing written testimony from the abused and evidence outlining the global scale of the problem.
Their reports cite case studies in Mexico and Britain, grand jury investigations in the US, and government fact-finding inquiries from Canada to Ireland to Australia that detail how the Vatican’s policies, its culture of secrecy and fear of scandal contributed to the problem.
The Holy See has long insisted that it was not responsible for the crimes of Catholic clerics committed around the world, saying priests are not employees of the Vatican but citizens of countries where they reside and subject to local law enforcement. It has maintained that bishops were responsible for the priests in their care, not the pope.
But victims groups and human rights organisations provided the UN committee with Vatican documentation showing how the Holy See discouraged bishops from reporting abusers to police.
Committee member Jorge Cardona Llorens, a Spanish international law professor, asked how the Vatican would create “specific criteria” for putting children’s interests first, because there were none yet in place.
Scicluna said the Holy See wanted to be a model for how to protect children and care for victims. “I think the international community looks up to the Holy See for such guidance. But it’s not only words, it has to be commitment on the ground.”
He added: “The states who are cognisant of obstruction of justice need to take action against citizens of their countries who obstruct justice.”
Scicluna, a Maltese bishop, has previous said prelate who failed to do the right thing with paedophile priests must be held accountable.