Vatican challenged at UN over failure to tackle Child Abuse

The Pope and the Vatican’s record on child abuse were challenged today [March 16, 2010] at the United Nations. Both were criticised with unprecedented candour at the UN Human Rights Council by Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society.

Keith Porteous Wood, who made the intervention in Geneva on behalf of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), said: “Billions of dollars - and euros - have already been paid out in respect of thousands of victims in the USA and Ireland. News of further abuse has since appeared in Austria, the Netherlands and now Germany – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. How much more evidence of children’s suffering at the hands of the Church will the UN and the international community tolerate before fulfilling their responsibility to those children to hold the Vatican to account?

“The Vatican is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), but has contravened several of its articles, and is more than 10 years behind in its reporting. It has habitually compounded the abuse and facilitated multiple reoffending by moving offenders around and shielding them from prosecuting authorities by imposing the “pontifical secret”. Major investigations in the USA and Ireland have been deliberately and cynically obstructed by the Church at all levels without censure from above. This includes the Vatican’s representative in Ireland, suggesting that he acted under instruction from the highest level in the Church. All this has led to abusers being allowed to continue offending and to escape justice, while their victims despair - some even committing suicide.

“The Church cannot claim it is being victimised. It still places the protection of its reputation, and even more its assets, above the protection of those entrusted to its care. Over 90% of the compensation payments paid by cash-strapped Ireland came from the tax payers, including the abused themselves.

“When we raised this issue at the UN in September 2009, the Church blamed everyone else, but did promise a paltry one paragraph on clerical abuse in its report to the UN. Even that mandatory report - already 13 years overdue and promised last September - has still not been filed with the UN.

“Following an instruction from Cardinal Ratzinger when head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all suspicions and accusations of child abuse were to be sent to the Vatican in secret. Furthermore, when acceding to the Convention, the Vatican arbitrarily – and disingenuously - excluded “Vatican City state” from the jurisdiction of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). IHEU calls on the Holy See to:

1. remove its reservation to the CRC to bring the territory of Vatican City state, to which it has instructed all abuse accusations are to be sent, under the jurisdiction of the CRC,

2. open up its files and records to CRC and state investigators, and

3. instruct all its representatives to cooperate with legal investigating authorities worldwide, something that they have signally failed to do, for example, in Ireland.”

Also see:

Our 22 September 2009 intervention report which contains our written statement published by UN, our speech, Holy See Right of Reply and press reaction.

The statement in full

International Humanist and Ethical Union Intervention
UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 13th Session (1 to 26 March 2010)

Speaker: IHEU Representative, Keith Porteous Wood: Tuesday 16 March 2010

Agenda Item 4: Matters requiring the attention of the Council

Child Abuse and the Holy See

Mr President

At the 12th session of the Council we noted contravention by the Holy See of several articles of [the Convention on the Rights of the Child] the CRC, and cited evidence of the part played by the Holy See in the cover up of [the long-running and ubiquitous problem of] child abuse by priests and servants of the Catholic Church.[1] But the distinguished delegate of the Holy See, in exercising their right of reply, conspicuously failed to deny our allegations, disingenuously attempting to point the finger of blame elsewhere.[2] He claimed that their report to the CRC, then being finalised would devote “a paragraph ... to child abuse by catholic clergy”. We note however that still, six months later, that report now 13 years overdue, has still yet to be filed.

But what a discourtesy to [this Council and to] the tens of thousands of child victims to suggest that any single paragraph could explain, far less excuse, decades of abuse in respect of which billions of dollars and euros in compensation have already been paid, and investigations in new countries are regularly being announced, [e.g. in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.]

The claim by the representative of the Holy See that they “were putting their house in order” is not borne out by the facts. [In Ireland, the Papal authorities attempted to obstruct the Murphy Inquiry into the cover up of child abuse by the Dublin diocese,[3] and has refused to cooperate with an inquiry by the Irish Foreign Affairs Committee, refusing to respond to two letters from the Committee to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, inviting him to appear before it.][4]

To protect children and bring perpetrators to justice, we call on the Holy See:
1. to remove its reservation to the CRC to bring the territory of Vatican City state, to which it has instructed all abuse accusations are to be sent, under the jurisdiction of the CRC,

2. to open up its files and records to CRC and state investigators, and

3. to instruct all its representatives to cooperate with legal investigating authorities worldwide, something that they have signally failed to do in Ireland.

Thank you sir.

[1] UN: IHEU calls the Vatican to account over child abuse

[2] Holy See responds to IHEU criticism

[3] Ahern Receives Dublin Archdiocese Report

[4] Decision of papal nuncio not to attend Dáil committee 'scandalous'


Note: the words in [brackets] were included in the circulated statement but omitted from the intervention due to time constraints.