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ROME (RNS) A United Nations panel blasted the Vatican for the second time this year for failing to respond adequately to the child sexual abuse scandals that have swept the Catholic Church, but stopped short of saying the Holy See had violated U.N. treaty obligations on torture.

The United Nations headquarters in New York.

The United Nations headquarters in New York Photo courtesy of Steve Cadman, via Wikimedia Commons

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The report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture released in Geneva on Friday (May 23) expressed strong concerns about the failure of church officials to report abuse charges to police, to stop the transfer of clergy accused of abuse or to offer adequate compensation and rehabilitation to victims.

“The committee is concerned by reports that the State party’s officials resist the principle of mandatory reporting to civil authorities,” the report said.

“The committee is further concerned by numerous reports of cases in which clergy accused or convicted by civil authorities … were transferred to other dioceses and institutions where they remained in contact with minors and others who are vulnerable.”

The U.N. committee cited the case of the Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul, the fugitive Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota before being arrested several years later in India. It also cited the 2005 grand jury investigation that revealed widespread sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as “illustrative” of its concerns.

Nevertheless, the panel’s criticism was far more muted than a scathing February report from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child that asserted that the Vatican had fostered “impunity” for abusers.

In a statement, the Vatican said Friday the panel had recognized that it had “made many serious and substantial reforms on its procedures” and the Holy See’s moves “ to institute reforms to prevent sexual abuse, and to compensate and facilitate the care and healing of the victims of sexual abuse.”

Even so, the U.N. panel stressed the need for the Vatican to do more — to take “effective measures” to monitor individuals under its control and “stop and sanction” anyone accused of abuse.

It also said police must be notified of abuse cases, and the Holy See should ensure that victims receive the “fair, adequate and enforceable right to compensation.” The report specifically cited the women — many of them unwed mothers — who were sent to work in slavelike conditions at the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland as an example of those in need of further “redress.”

Attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which represents more than 18,000 victims worldwide, welcomed the report, saying the panel had backed their claims that abuse was a form of torture — and should not be subjected to a statute of limitations.

“This is an important recognition of the gravity of these offenses that have been minimized by the church (and) places responsibility where it belongs — with the hierarchy in the church, not the victims — and could help open new avenues for redress,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pam Spees.

SNAP President Barbara Blaine said the report was a sign of change: “The increasing attention international human rights bodies are paying to this crisis shows the Vatican’s days of impunity are numbered.”

Tackling the controversial case of Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, the panel demanded “a prompt and impartial investigation” of abuse allegations in his native Poland and in the Dominican Republic, where he served as papal nuncio until his dismissal in August 2013. The committee said the Vatican should reconsider an extradition request from Poland if warranted.

Pope Francis has defended the church’s record on tackling sexual abuse by priests and has set up a committee headed by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley to look at the issue.

During hearings earlier this month, the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.N. agencies in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said the Catholic Church had “crossed the threshold” in its approach to the issue and the culture had changed.

Tomasi told the U.N. panel that 848 clerics had been expelled from the church between 2004 and 2013 and that the church had paid $2.5 billion in compensation to victims of clerical abuse in the U.S. alone.

UN Report on Vatican, sex abuse and torture


  1. The UN appears to be just as much afraid of the Vatican as the U.S. Justice Department. I like Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General a great deal–but for two very unforgivable faults.

    Holder has led a justice system that has been extremely weak about going after all the clergy involved in the Catholic sex scandal, both bishops and priests. After Cardinal Law was allowed to escape to Rome under the Bush/Cheney regime, nothing different was done when Obama and Holder took office.

    Holder and our justice system have been just as lax about the thieves on Wall St. who ruined our economy. He has not prosecuted a single one of those thugs. And guess what? Holder was a big, big member of a big, big New York law firm that work mightily for Wall St. before Obama nominated him to be our Attorney General.

    And now the UN, very, very belatedly, merely taps the Vatican on the proverbial wrist, saying, “Naughty Boys!” in response to its horrid record of world-wide clerical sex crimes. No surprise that the Vatican is located in the land of “The Untouchables!”

    Our prisons are overflowing with people who smoked a joint, and all these monster criminals in finance and sex are allowed to live free and roll in super wealth.

    • You’re right on the mark; “The UN appears to be just as much afraid of the Vatican as the U.S. Justice Department.”

      A lot of Catholics are NOT fully aware of how serious the child sexual abuse crimes are within the RCC. If the “left” is perceived as too heavy handed, some of the voters will shift to the radical “right’s” misguided concept of religious freedom. I wish there was a clear course of action that would punish these creepy Catholic prelates. I would love to see some of them doing serious prison time.

  2. Laurence Charles Ringo

    Frankly, I myself place the blame equally on the Catholic rank-and-file for one simple reason:their near-idolization of their priests, bishops, and popes.They’ve bought into the man-made, man-centered, religious system for centuries, sacrificing their souls and the souls of their children on the altars of idols, criminals, and human beasts, and now your chickens are coming home to roost.Your”church”had a vested interest in keeping ordinary christians separated from The Only True Saviour and Lord, Jesus the Christ;you allowed mere men to usurp His rightful place in your hearts, so…here you all are,”stuck like Chuck”to a system of lies, myths, and man-made fairy tales you have no idea how to escape from.Trust me, my dearly loved catholic friends: CHRIST IS THE ONLY ANSWER FOR YOU. Your pope’s vaguely worded claims can’t give you the answers you seek.

  3. On a related matter, the UN is considering outlawing “blasphemy” in its member states.

    This would put certain criticisms of religion off limits; possibly the Vatican.
    We all need to object to anti-blasphemy legislation wherever it is proposed.

    Blasphemy is a victimless crime.

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