Where responsibility lies for the Vatican on children’s rights

There is much that is very familiar in Wednesday’s report by the UN panel on the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many conclusions mirror those of Irish reports not only into the extent of abuse but the collusion of the church authorities in cover-up. “The Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests,” the panel finds, echoing all too familiar words from Murphy and others.

The Vatican responded that it had already made many of the changes called for in the report, and that the report's conclusions were out of date

But such findings bear repetition and re-emphasising, not least because the panel made clear it was not concerned just with the historic but the present. Despite Pope Francis's establishment of a commission to deal with the issue, and last month's assurance at the Geneva hearings by Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's former chief prosecutor of sexual abuse, that now "the Holy See gets it", many remain to be convinced.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed,” the panel says, “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 panel also demanded that the Vatican open its archives to identify not only rogue priests but also their superiors who kept the crimes hidden from criminal prosecutors. In doing so it got to the nub of the dispute between the Irish Government and the Holy See over the latter's refusal to assist a tribunal here.

At issue was the logic implied in the Vatican's insistence that as signatory to the convention it was required only to police child protection inside the Vatican state. It had reiterated the legal defence with which it has denied responsibility and fought liability in damage suits around the world, that priests are not employees of the Pope or the Vatican but of autonomous local dioceses. (The Vatican won an important final US ruling in August in John V. Doe v Holy See that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act protects it from liability for the actions of priest Andrew Ronan because there is no relationship of employment in the case).

Not so, the UN committee has rightly said. By ratifying the convention, the church had committed itself, in the panel’s view, to implementing it “not only on the territory of the Vatican City state but also as the supreme power of the Catholic church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority”. Down to every parish. The church should accept its responsibility at the highest level.