The United Nations has issued a second damning report into the Vatican’s response to the child sex abuse scandal, but paid tribute to recent efforts by Pope Francis to improve the Church’s record on safeguarding.
In a report issued today, the UN Committee against Torture accused the Holy See of failing to report allegations of abuse to authorities, refusing to disclose information for criminal proceedings and transferring clergy to other dioceses, where they were able to molest children again.
But there was some praise for progress made by Pope Francis, in particular the recognition of crimes against minors and the establishment of the Pontifical commission for protection of minors.
The panel said it welcomed Francis’ statement acknowledging the damage done by priests, in which he said: "We will not take one step backwards … on the contrary we must be even stronger."
The panel’s findings follow a report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in February, which accused the Vatican of “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to abuse thousands of children.
At the 6 May hearing in Geneva on which the report is based, Vatican officials revealed that over the past decade, 848 clergy have been defrocked and 2,572 sanctioned.
According to the UN torture includes any pain or suffering, mental or physical, inflicted by or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official.
The Committee against Torture was “concerned” by reports that the Holy See was still “resisting the principle of mandatory reporting of allegations to civil authorities”, and withholding information.
The panel cited the specific case of the Papal Nuncio to Australia, Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who it said in December cited diplomatic immunity when he refused to disclose archival documents relating to two priests, including one of the country’s most notorious paedophiles.
It also mentioned the late Fr Denis McAlinden, who was known to have abused from the 1950s, was transferred from diocese to diocese for 40 years, and posted to both the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
The UN panel was also troubled by “numerous reports” in which clergy under investigation were transferred to other dioceses where they were able to avoid punishment.
The agency cited several specific cases including that of the priest Fr Joseph Jeyapaul, who was allowed to remain at large in India for seven years despite facing criminal charges that he molested a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota in 2004.
It also referred to Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, a former nuncio to the Dominican Republic accused who is of sexual abuse. The Vatican declined to extradite him to face charges in his native Poland.
The Holy See’s obligations extend to “all officials and other persons acting in an official capacity” in any location, not just Vatican territory, the committee said. Vatican officials had told UN panels that the Holy See jurisdiction in applying UN treaties extends only to the Vatican City State.
The panel recommended that the Vatican should establish an independent complaints system where there was “no hierarchical connection between investigators and perpetrators”.
The agency also said that the victims of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, where thousands of unmarried pregnant women worked, should be given proper redress, including compensation.
The Holy See said that the Committee had recognised Vatican efforts to stem the epidemic of clerical child abuse.
The Geneva-based committee, it said in a statement, "recognises that the Holy See, Catholic dioceses and religious orders have implemented major efforts for the prevention of sexual abuse of minors and other people."