Vatican reveals statistics surrounding child abuse

(AP)

For the first time, the Vatican has revealed details of its internal response to the epidemic of child abuse.

The Vatican's special ambassador to Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, spoke yesterday to the committee responsible for implementing the UN's Convention Against Torture.

Despite continuing to insist that the Vatican was only responsible for enforcing the CAT within the Vatican's city state borders, Ambassador Tomasi discussed details of how the Vatican has handled 3,400 abuse cases that have been reported to it since 2004.

In 2001 the Vatican mandated that all abuse cases involving Catholic priests that could be verified as true should be reported to the Vatican. The Vatican took this decision after it emerged that Catholic authorities had simply been shuffling priests between various parishes.

Tomasi acknowledged the existence of problems in the past, such as the belief that paedophilia could be cured with therapy.

Speaking to the AP, Archbishop Tomasi said: "The culture at the time would allow this to happen, unfortunately, that was a mistake as experience has shown."

He told the committee that "there is no climate of impunity but there is a total commitment to clean the house" and prevent more abuse.

"I think we have crossed a threshold ... in our evolution of the approach to these problems. It's clear that the issue of sexual abuse of children, which is a worldwide plague and scourge, has been addressed in the last 10 years by the church in a systematic, comprehensive, constructive way."

Since the new reporting policy was introduced, the Vatican has defrocked 848 priests – 384 of these in the final two years of Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate, and charged 2,572 with lower offences.

It was only in 2010 that the Vatican explicitly told its bishops around the world to report suspected abuse cases to the police in cases where local laws required them to.

It has been reported that the data Archbishop Tomasi showed revealed peaks and dips in frequency of reported abuse that corresponded with the news cycles focus on Catholic child abuse.

Nick Cafardi, a US canon lawyer and former chairman of the US bishops' lay review board that monitored clerical abuse, was quoted by AP as saying: "Given where the church came from - with the pendulum swung squarely to the side of the accused priest whose explanations were almost always believed - this is a move away from that and more toward giving credibility to victims, which is progress.

"Maybe not perfect progress, but progress."

If the Vatican goes further in admitting that the child abuse many of their clergy committed constitutes torture, then there is the possibility that the change in the statute of limitations will open them to new lawsuits.

Currently, many victims of abuse are unable to claim justice from the courts because of the length of time between the incident and their reporting of it, and the statute of limitations cut off their appeals process. However legislation around torture is different.

Pam Spees, a senior attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, a major provider of documents to support the victims of abuse said: "The committee's recognition (of abuse as a form of torture) could help open additional channels for victims to seek justice and reparations, including, potentially, relief from restrictive statutes of limitations and civil remedies, all of which contributes to preventing more harm."

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