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Holy See’s Role in Exposing Children to Clergy Sexual Abuse Called into Question at UN

January 16, 2014

In a session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child today, the Holy See answered questions about its role in the child sexual abuse crisis that has involved hundreds of priests and bishops around the world. This is the first time that the Holy See has appeared before the Committee to account for allegations that it protected clergy and religious leaders who sexually abused children as a higher priority than the needs of thousands of child victims.

The Holy See ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and submitted its first report on child sexual abuse cases in 1994. However, although reports are due every five years, its next report came in 2012, more than a decade late. The Committee called on the Holy See to provide detailed information about all the cases of child sexual abuse committed by clergy after receiving the initial report. Written answers reveal that the Holy See failed to adequately address the Committee’s concerns about its measures to protect children.

“Concerns about the Holy See’s weak responses to the Committee on the Rights of the Child are legitimate,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, “But this should come as no surprise. Throughout its history, the Catholic hierarchy’s main aim has been to protect the institution, not those who have been hurt by its actions—or inaction. Inexplicably, the Holy See continues to enjoy the privileges of a state at the UN. The Holy See has no right to a seat at the UN and should not be signing these treaties and conventions. Pope Francis has initiated many changes at the Vatican, including a pledge of transparency. The answers provided by the Holy See in writing and at the hearing today were not a resolute step in this direction. The pope needs to do better.”

Learn more in our report that tells the story of how the Catholic church came to be the only religion with the privileges of a state at the United Nations. A three-minute video explains what the Holy See does with its unique position at the UN.