VATICAN CITY – The Vatican blasted back at a UN-authored Rights of Children report, saying its criticism of the church's stand on homosexuality is driven by critics of the church's "non-negotiable" teachings.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, whose members have included such nations as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Uganda and Thailand,accused the Vatican Wednesday of "systematically" adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, and urged it to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the head of the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio that non-governmental organizations which favor gay marriage probably influenced the committee to reinforce an "ideological line" in the report. He did not note the irony of nations like Syria, which has used poison gas on children, Uganda, where kids have been forced to fight, kill and die in wars and Thailand, which has long been accused of tolerating a child sex trade, having served on the committee, which currently consists of representatives from 18 nations.
The UN report also severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children's rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.
The church's critics believe the report will put renewed pressure on Pope Francis to move decisively on the abuse front and make good on pledges to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it. The commission was announced at the spur of the moment in December, but few details have been released since then.
"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 U.S. victim's group SNAP. "Now it's up to secular officials to follow the U.N.'s lead and step in to safeguard the vulnerable because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so."
The committee issued its recommendations after subjecting the Holy See to a daylong interrogation last month on its implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the key U.N. treaty on child protection, which the Holy See ratified in 1990.
The report called for Francis' nascent abuse commission to conduct an independent investigation of all cases of priestly abuse and the way the Catholic hierarchy has responded over time, and urged the Holy See to establish clear rules for the mandatory reporting of abuse to police and to support laws that allow victims to report crimes even after the statute of limitations has expired.
The committee also urged the Vatican to amend its canon law to identify circumstances where access to abortion can be permitted for children, such as to save the life of a young mother. It urged the Holy See to ensure that sex education, including access to information about contraception and preventing HIV, is mandatory in Catholic schools. It called for the Holy See to use its moral authority to condemn discrimination against homosexual children or children raised by same-sex couples.
The Vatican said it would study the report and in a statement reiterated its commitment to defending and protecting children's rights that are enshrined in the treaty. But it took issue with the committee's recommendations to change core church teaching on life.
"The Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the concluding observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom," the Vatican said.
Austen Ivereigh, coordinator of Catholic Voices, a church advocacy group, said the report was a "shocking display of ignorance and high-handedness."
He said it failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made in recent years and that the Catholic Church in many places is now considered a leader in safeguarding children. And he noted that the committee seemed unable to grasp the distinction between the responsibilities and jurisdiction of the Holy See, and local churches on the ground.
"It takes no account of the particularities of the Holy See, treating it as if it were the HQ of a multinational corporation," he said in an e-mail