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Lay Catholics Launch United Nations Campaign to Hold the Holy See Accountable for Sexual Abuse of Children

April 22, 2002

Washington, DC—As Cardinals from the United States meet in Rome with Vatican officials to discuss the mounting crisis in the Catholic church as a result of child abuse and attempts by the hierarchy to cover-up those abuses, a new petition drive launched today calls on the United Nations General Assembly to intervene in the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents by priests in the Catholic church worldwide.

“Neither the United Nations nor its Member States can ignore systematic abuse of children and neither the United Nations nor its Member States can ignore violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by a Permanent Observer: The Holy See,” said Catholics for a Free Choice, the organizers of a new initiative to take the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandal before the United Nations.

The petition drive, launched by Catholics for a Free Choice and released as the UN Special Session on Children approaches, states that, “The Holy See, the government of both the Vatican City and the Roman Catholic church, has an obligation to the world community to address this problem publicly and to take steps to ensure the safety of children in its care.”

The petition drive will call the Vatican to accountability for the cover-up and mishandling of sexual abuse within the church. Non-governmental organizations and individuals worldwide will be invited to join in this effort by signing on to the campaign statement available online at

Frances Kissling, Catholics for a Free Choice president, stated:  “For years the Vatican has taken no steps to end sexual abuse in the church; it has turned a blind eye to high-ranking officials who have covered up such abuse.  Even now, those responsible for the cover-ups, American Cardinals, meet with the pope as respected and trusted colleagues.  It’s a bit like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop.  The Holy See must demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy.  Sexual abusers must be dismissed and defrocked promptly.  High-ranking officials who have covered up abuse or impeded civil and criminal proceedings must resign or be dismissed.  Most immediately this means Cardinals Law and Egan.  Only then will we know the Holy See is serious.  Only then can credible policy be established.  To entrust the establishment of new policy to those who are responsible for the failures of the past is ludicrous.”

The petition to take these cases to the United Nations states that:

  • The Holy See as both a moral voice and a Permanent Observer is accountable to the world community.  It is culpable for sexual abuse and abuse of power by high-ranking officials.
  • The UN Special Session on Children and the 2002 Sessions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child are excellent opportunities for the Holy See to apologize to the world for the tragic child sexual abuse by its priests and its lack of action to end this abuse.  In concrete reparations to the world’s children the Holy See should reinstate its contribution to UNICEF.

The petition calls for:

  • The Committee on the Rights of the Child, chaired by Mr. Jacob Egbert Doek of The Netherlands, is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and must immediately demand a report from the Holy See on both the magnitude of the problem and its plan to end pedophilia and ephebophilia in the church.  The Holy See is party to the Convention.  It has not reported since 1994 and has never acknowledged this violation of the Convention.
  • Member states must not ignore the abuse of their children by officials of a Permanent Observer.  Holy See ambassadors must be queried.  Diplomatic immunity cannot be permitted where crimes against children are alleged.  Member states must invoke international mechanisms for investigation, even censure.  The United States, where so much abuse has occurred, has a special obligation to speak out.

Frances Kissling concluded, “On many occasions the Holy See has been a moral voice for the rights of children.  With the financial support of the world’s donor countries it has provided education, health care and humanitarian services to the world’s poorest, most vulnerable children.  Now, its moral credibility is ruined, not just by the abuse children have suffered at its hand, but by its seeming unwillingness to clean its own house.  Children’s rights start at home. The church must change and all who care about children must demand that change!  No one, least of all the United Nations, can stand silent.”


— Statement ends —