GENEVA/VATICAN CITY — The United Nations on Wednesday accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse of children by priests, and demanded it immediately turn over known or suspected offenders to civil justice.
In a scathingly blunt report, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said Church officials had imposed a “code of silence” on clerics and moved abusers from parish to parish “in an attempt to cover up such crimes".
The Vatican called the report “distorted” and “unfair” and said the United Nations had ignored steps taken in the past decade to protect children.
The combative exchange sets the scene for the Vatican’s biggest clash with the United Nations since 1994. Then, at a U.N. population conference in Cairo, the Vatican forced the international organisation to back down on a proposal to approve abortion as a means of birth control.
The report also lays out a fresh challenge for a commission named by Pope Francis in December to advise him on a scandal that has plagued the Church for decades.
The committee said it was “gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators".
It urged the Vatican to “immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes".
The Vatican initially planned a muted response, according to a person familiar with the matter, but raised its tone, after much debate, in response to the report’s demands that the Catholic Church scale back its opposition to abortion, artificial contraception and homosexuality.