UN criticizes Vatican on sexual abuse but stops short of calling it torture

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 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.

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“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

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