Advocacy groups have long urged the United Nations to force the Vatican to meet its obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it ratified in 1990. Signatories to that treaty are required to do whatever is in their power to protect children from harm -- including child sex abuse. The Vatican, however, has only occasionally deigned even to provide information to the U.N.
Some of that changed this week, when the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child managed to get a delegation from the Vatican to come to Geneva and answer questions about the immense, international scandal of pedophile priests and the church culture of secrecy that protects them. Critics say the church has allowed the rape of untold numbers of children across the globe by hushing up the victims, moving the priests around and generally engaging in a cover-up.
"I believe the church puts too much its reputation before the victims and you know the pain of this abuse that we carry,” one victim of priest sexual abuse told the Associated Press.
"The Holy See gets it," a Vatican representative, a former sex crimes prosecutor, said to the committee. "Let's not say too late or not. But there are certain things that need to be done differently."
But does it, really? Church leaders insist that since pedophile priests are citizens of their individual countries, the Vatican has no jurisdiction to sanction them. Bishops, not the Pope are responsible for disciplining local priests.
Human rights investigators for the committee challenged that, pointing to the Vatican’s own documents showing papal-level efforts to discourage local church officials from turning pedophiles over to law enforcement. In Ireland, a Vatican cardinal ordered bishops whose policies required such reports to reverse those policies. They blasted the delegation for actively undermining investigations and covering up the cases, as pointing to grand jury investigations, victim case studies, and government inquiries in at least five countries.
"If these events continue to be hidden and covered up," asked another investigator, "to what extent will children be affected?"
And that’s the real question, isn’t it? People say that cover-ups are often worse than the underlying crime. If the Vatican has indeed enabled child rape by priests around the globe, it’s hard to argue that -- even with a crime this reprehensible.
Source: NBC Washington, "UN Blasts Vatican for 'Efforts to Cover up' Sex Abuse," John Heilprin and Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, Jan. 16, 2014