U.N. Expresses “Deepest Concern” over Widespread Sexual Abuse by Clergy, Finding Vatican Failed to Protect Children

UPDATE: Vatican statement says 

"The Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the Concluding Observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom."
CCR Attorney Katherine Gallagher responds: "Now would be the moment for the Vatican to own up to its past actions and role in enabling acts of sexual violence against children, and undertake to meet its obligations to put the interests of children ahead of the reputation of the Church; instead, continuing its focus on the same social policies as under previous popes, they accuse the UN of 'interfering'  with religious freedom. What does covering up the rape of children have to do with religious freedom?"

February 5, 2014, New York
– "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," wrote a United Nations Committee today. The Vatican must undertake a series of reforms to meet its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and disclose records on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy around the world, according to concluding observations released today by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. The U.N. Committee questioned Vatican representatives in a public hearing last month regarding the Vatican’s handling of the global crisis of sexual violence committed by Catholic clergy, including allegations that it enabled sexual violence against children by transferring pedophile priests to different parishes or destroying evidence in order to cover up their crimes. This was the first time Vatican officials have been directly questioned by an international body on this topic.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and their attorneys from the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which had submitted a joint report to the Committee, had been in attendance at the hearing in Geneva.
“We are so gratified that the U.N. has taken up this issue with such seriousness,” said Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP. “The more international bodies and local governments step up, the sooner we can end the Vatican practices, including cover-ups, that continue to result in the rape of children and other vulnerable adults in the Church.”

The U.N 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 Committee lamented the “code of silence” that has allowed both abusers and those who have covered it up to “escape judicial proceedings.” Among its many recommendations, the U.N. Committee called on the Vatican to “immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes.”
So far, the Vatican has refused to provide concrete data on its handling of sexual violence cases or turn over records to the Committee. The Vatican has also asserted that it is only responsible for actions or crimes that occur within Vatican City, despite its global reach and control over all Catholic clergy. In its report, the U.N. Committee dismisses that assertion, noting the Vatican is the “supreme power of the Catholic Church” and that “subordinates in Catholic religious orders are bound by obedience to the Pope.”

“This day has been a long time coming, but the international community is finally holding the Vatican accountable for its role in enabling and perpetuating sexual violence in the Church,” said Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “The whole world will be watching to ensure that the Vatican takes the concrete steps required by the U.N. to protect children and end these crimes. Impunity and cover-up, including at the highest levels of the Church, will not be tolerated.”
Although the Committee’s recommendations are non-binding, as a State Party to the Convention, the Vatican has undertaken to meet the obligations that the Committee found it has breached. The Committee has called the Vatican back to report on its progress in 2017; previously it had been 14 years between reports. The U.N. Committee Against Torture has also summoned the Vatican to Geneva in April to report on its compliance with the Torture Convention.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers, as well as those who suffered institutional abuse or those hurt by scout leaders, coaches and teachers. Visit www.snapnetwork.org.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


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February 5, 2014