The Catholic Church is the oldest institution in the western world, and with more than one billion members worldwide, it is the largest Christian church. Its history spans almost 2,000 years and is rooted in the Church's Canon of Scripture and Tradition. At the head of the church is the Pope, who Catholics believe is the successor to Saint Peter whom Christ appointed as the first head of His church. The Pope, according to the religion's doctrine, can speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals. The Catholic Church practises closed communion and only baptised members of the church are permitted to receive the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
UN committee demands Vatican action on child sex abuse
Watchdog calls for end to cover-up and urges sharing of information with police, but Vatican slams parts of report as 'doctrinal interference'
The United Nations called on the Vatican yesterday to "immediately remove" all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers and turn them over to police.
The UN watchdog for children's rights said the Holy See should also hand over its archives on sexual abuse so that culprits - and those who concealed crimes - could be held accountable.
The watchdog's blunt paper - the most far-reaching critique of the church by the world body - followed its public grilling of Vatican officials last month.
"The committee is 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," the report said.
The UN committee on the Rights of the Child said the Catholic Church had not yet taken measures to prevent a repeat of cases such as Ireland's Magdalene laundries scandal, where girls were arbitrarily placed in conditions of forced labour. It called for an internal investigation of the laundries and similar institutions so that those who were responsible could be prosecuted and that "full compensation be paid to the victims".
A commission created by Pope Francis in December should investigate all cases of child sexual abuse, the report said. Abusers had been moved from parish to parish or other countries "in an attempt to cover-up such crimes", it added.
"Due to a code of silence … cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where such crimes occurred," the UN body said.
The committee's recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism. Rather, the UN asked the Vatican to implement the recommendations and report back by 2017. The Vatican was 14 years late submitting its most recent report.
In a terse response, the Vatican said it "took note" of the report, but criticised as doctrinal interference parts of the report that questioned its stance on contraception and abortion.
As well as general comments on the risks to girls of early pregnancy and clandestine abortions, the committee highlighted the case of a nine-year-old Brazilian who was raped by her stepfather, and whose mother and doctor were excommunicated after she had a termination.
The head of the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations in Geneva told Vatican Radio that NGOs which favour gay marriage probably influenced the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to reinforce an "ideological line" in the report.
But victims groups hailed the report as a wake-up call to secular law enforcement officials to investigate the abuse and cover-up and prosecute church officials who are still protecting predator priests.
"This report gives hope to the hundreds of thousands of deeply wounded and still suffering clergy sex abuse victims across the world," said Barbara Blaine, president of the main US victim's group Snap. "Now it's up to secular officials to follow the UN's lead and step in to safeguard the vulnerable because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so."
Additional reporting by Associated Press