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Child Sexual Abuse and the Holy See

The need for justice, accountability and reform

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is seeking detailed information on sexual violence against children by Catholic clergy around the world, its cover up within the Church and the denial of justice and compensation for victims. The scale of the abuse is huge, affecting countless victims around the world.

The Holy See is up for review during the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s (CRC) 65th session on 16 January 2014.1 In a formal communication with the Holy See in July 2013, the CRC, noting “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…”, requested detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns or brought to the attention of the Holy See over the reporting period. This request received significant media attention, but when the Holy See’s response to the UN Committee was issued in December 2013,3 it did not provide the full disclosure sought by the Committee. Despite stating that it considers the Convention on the Rights of the Child as “the most important among the rules of international law”, it declined to provide this information, stating that the matter did not fall within its jurisdiction and that it is “not the practice of the Holy See to disclose information on the religious discipline”.

At the heart of the CRC’s review of the Holy See are the issues of transparency, access to justice for children and protection from violence - issues which CRIN believes are crucial to securing children’s status as individuals with rights. This preliminary global research report maps the scale of child sexual abuse committed by clerics of the Catholic Church and evidence of cover up attempts by the Vatican and Church authorities. It provides an overview of litigation brought by victims of abuse against Catholic clergy seeking remedies for gross violations of their rights. Our aim is to press the Holy See to become more transparent as a State with human rights obligations, and to open it up to further and effective scrutiny by United Nations bodies. We sincerely hope the report will demonstrate solidarity with victims and help to ensure that their voices are heard and acted on by the United Nations as well as the Holy See itself.