UN puts pressure on Vatican over clerical abuse – IHEU’s role

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 17 July 2013

A United Nations panel has put pressure on the Vatican to explain its responses to the widespread sexual abuse scandal engulfing the church.

The demand has been reported widely around the world (e.g. Telegraph: “UN tells Vatican to hand over details of child sex abuse cases”; Reuters: “U.N. rights body poses tough questions to Vatican over child abuse”; Washington Post “UN panel questions Vatican record on child sex abuse”.)

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) gave evidence to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which informed the panel’s list of detailed questions over clerical child abuse.

Evidence was given to the Committee also by survivors’ groups SNAP and Survivors Voice Europe, by the (UK) National Secular Society (an IHEU associate member), and by prominent lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, author of The Case of the Pope.

The Holy See must answer the questions by November, to be examined by the Committee in public in Geneva in January 2014.

The Committee asks, among other questions, “In the light of the recognition by the Holy See of sexual violence against children committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns in numerous countries around the world, and given the scale of the abuses” in respect of every case of such abuse from 1994–2010 (in summary):

(a) Whether those accused were removed from contact with children

(b) Whether its reporting to secular authorities was mandatory

(c) Whether children were supported when making accusations and whether they were silenced

(d) What was the outcome of canon law trials and whether there was co-operation with authorities in the countries concerned

(e) What assistance was given to victims

(f) What preventative measures are in place

The Holy See being interrogated over clerical child abuse by the UN has been reported by 60 media outlets around the world. It is is the first time that the UN has made demands on this scale of the Vatican to be accountable over the abuse scandal.

Vatican Reaction

The only reaction so far from the Vatican is contained in the following report:

The Vatican did not respond when asked specifically for a comment on the U.N.’s report, but Massimo DeGregori, a priest with the Holy See’s diplomatic corps in Geneva, told Religion News Service that the U.N. is being manipulated by enemies of the church. “While we don’t deny the gravity (of child sex abuse), someone is trying to take advantage of the U.N. committee procedure,” he said.


The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is charged with examining reports submitted mandatorily by signatories of the Convention every five years. The Vatican/Holy See only recently submitted its report – due in 1997 – following IHEU raising the Holy See’s failure to file this report three times at the UN Human Rights Council [PDF].

The UN Committee is now examining the Holy See’s report, which gives scant details of problems regarding clerical rape and other sexual violence, which should be fully disclosed under the Convention and the Committee’s guidance on report submission.

Prior to the pre-sessional meeting evidence was submitted alleging widespread and serious breaches of the UN Convention to which the Vatican is a voluntary signatory.

Routinely, following receiving states’ reports, any other evidence and having deliberated, the Committee issues states with a “list of issues” ahead of a formal meeting to review the state’s report. The questions above form part of the “list of issues” for the Vatican, responses to which are requested by November, ahead of a meeting in January next year, at which the Vatican will be asked about its report formally. Because of the extreme delay in filing, the Vatican’s report covers three five-yearly reporting periods. Its only previous report made no mention of clerical abuse/rape and other sexual violence, even though it is now clear that this was a known major problem.


The full questions can be found under Questions 8 and 11 from the “list of issues”, UN document CRC/C/VAT/Q/2 (doc) dated 1 July 2013.

This list of issues follows the Vatican’s report to the Committee, which can be found here (doc). See in particular paragraphs 7, 17, 77/78.

Additional questions were asked under Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in document CRC/C/OPSC/VAT/Q/1 also dated 1 July 2013.

All these links can be accessed here.

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