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Pope Francis Reacts to Roman Catholic Church Child Abuse Probe, U.N. and Victims Insist More Needs to be Done

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First Posted: Jan 20, 2014 12:08 PM EST
Pope Francis
Pope Francis met with media on March 16, 2013.
(Photo : Flickr/Catholic Church England and Wales)

United Nations child protection experts are cracking down on Vatican delegates regarding how Roman Catholic officials handled the decades-long sexual abuse of minors by bishops and priests, saying they still need to speak up and reveal more information in order to prosecute the sexual perpetrators.

According to Reuters, "the officials, called to account for the first time since the Holy See signed the U.N. children's rights charter in 1990, argued that the Church recognized the problem and had drawn up clear guidelines to protect children from predator priests.

"But members of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and abuse victims attending the session in Geneva (Jan. 13- 31) demanded far more transparency on a scandal that has hounded the Church for more than two decades in countries from Ireland to Australia."

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"The view of committee is that the best way to prevent abuses is to reveal old ones -- openness instead of sweeping offences under the carpet," Kirsten Sandberg, chairwoman of the 18-strong U.N. committee, told the Vatican delegation.

"It seems to date your procedures are not very transparent."

Victims Speak Out

Miguel Hurtado, a Spaniard abused by his parish priest said: "Transparency is a very powerful tool when you are doing the right thing. When you have something to hide, you hide behind words and are not forthcoming with facts and details because facts and details are not on your side," he told Reuters TV.

"In less than a year Pope Francis has changed the image of the Church by preaching tolerance and wading into crowds to embrace the sick. Few doubt his sincerity. But there's one area in which the Church hasn't changed in image or substance: its stance on child sex abuse by the clergy," said David Clohessy in a Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) post.

Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, which has 15,000 U.S. members and 4,000 foreign members since being launched 25 years ago, said the Vatican response fell far short of what victims wanted.

"What we want to see is the Vatican punish bishops who covered up sex crimes and we want them to turn over information they have about crimes to police," she said.

"Victims need clerics to lobby for, not against, local laws protecting children from sexual predators. They need the Church to make public every document or scrap of paper concerning a credible accusation of sexual abuse. They need the Church to be completely open and honest on the issue of clergy abuse. They need the Church to change. No matter how sincere, more expressions of regret in Geneva won't stop pedophile priests today any more than it undoes the abuse of the past," added Clohessy in a SNAP post.

"It's great news that an independent group, the U.N. committee, is finally examining the issue of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The only better news would be if Pope Francis extended his compassion toward the sick and disenfranchised to the victims. And the best way to do that is for the pope and the Church to hold accountable those who sexually abused children or participated in its cover-up, and to release all internal documents concerning the abuse."

Reuters adds that "Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Vatican delegation, said in his opening remarks the Church had set clear procedures 'designed to help eliminate such abuse and to collaborate with respective state authorities to fight this crime.'

"Committee expert Sara De Jesus Oviedo Fierro contested this view, saying the Holy See had "not established any mechanism to investigate perpetrators of sexual abuse and to prosecute them".

Pope Francis' Reaction

On Jan. 16, Pope Francis told worshippers at morning Mass in the Vatican that abuse scandals had "cost us a lot of money, but (paying damages) is only right." He said bishops, priests and lay people were responsible for this "shame of the Church."

"Victims accuse bishops of covering up crimes and switching priests to other parishes to avoid prosecution. Courts have ordered dioceses to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, bankrupting a string of them in the United States," Reuters adds.

What actions has the Pope taken?

On Dec. 5, Pope Francis ordered the formation of a team of experts to look into the sexual abuse of minors in the Church, in his first major step to tackle the crisis, Reuters reports.

"The Holy See gets it; let's not say too late..." said Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a former top Vatican official for abuse cases who vehemently rejects charges of any cover-up. "There are certainly things that need to be done differently."

"It is not the policy of the Holy See to encourage cover-ups. Only the truth will help us move on to a situation where we can start being an example of best practice."

According to Scicluna, the Vatican had opened investigations into 612 new cases of sexual abuse by clerics in 2012, of which 465 were "more serious" and 418 concerned minors.

Blaine, an American raped as a child in Ohio, told Reuters, "It sounds like they are pulling numbers out of thin air because they are on the hot seat. What about the victims?"

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