UN committee's 'list of issues' will present Pope Francis with direct challenge to disclose whether secret deals were made to preserve church's reputation
The Vatican is to face tough questioning by a United Nations committee over the Catholic church's record in tackling child sexual abuse by its clergy around the world.
A detailed "list of issues" has been released by the Geneva-based Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) before the appearance of officials from the Holy See. The session is expected early next year.
The decision to ask senior Roman Catholic clerics to hand over confidential internal documents to such a high-profile inquiry marks a fresh initiative in the global debate over clerical abuse. It will present the new pontiff, Pope Francis, with a direct challenge to provide records of financial compensation given to victims of sexual abuse and disclose whether secret deals were made to preserve the church's reputation.
The UN committee's document is headed: "List of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the second periodic report of the Holy See." Paragraph 11 of the CRC's document states: "In the light of the recognition by the Holy See of sexual violence against children committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns in numerous countries around the world, and given the scale of the abuses, please provide detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns or brought to the attention of the Holy See."
The information sought includes cases where priests were transferred to other parishes, "where instructions were given not to report such offences, and at which level of the clergy", and "where children were silenced in order to minimise the risk of public disclosure". The CRC has also asked for "the investigations and legal proceedings conducted under penal canon law against perpetrators of sexual crimes" and "the number of child victims who have been given assistance for recovery, including psychological support and social reintegration and have received financial compensation".
The committee has been lobbied by international victims' groups as well as the UK-based National Secular Society. Keith Porteous Wood, the society's director who gave evidence in Geneva, told the Guardian: "Pope Francis will be judged on his ability to clean up child abuse and the Vatican bank's money laundering and tax evasion. He cannot rely on regulators' patience lasting much longer on either."
The Vatican has replied to past UN requests to respond to general concerns about sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The list of questions demands far more details.
Shortly after becoming pope, Francis announced that he had urged the Vatican to deal with the problem. A spokesman said in April that the church would "act decisively in sex abuse cases, above all promoting measures to protect minors, assistance for all those who in the past suffered such violence, [and] necessary measures against the guilty".
The CRC has been pressing the Vatican for greater disclosure over the issue of clerical abuse for years. Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests said last month: "The fact that a UN committee has called the Vatican to account for its record on children's rights, including the right to be free from sexual violence and exploitation, is giving survivors all over the world hope."