Vatican must 'remove' all suspected child abusers, says UN

(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)A child uses binoculars to watch Pope Francis delivering the Angelus from a window of the Apostolic palace in St Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, January 12, 2014

The UN has demanded that the Vatican "immediately remove" all suspected child abusers from their positions within the Church, and hand them over to civil authorities.

The call comes from a report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has been massively scathing of the policies and behaviour of the Vatican in its handling of child abuse by its members.

In the report, the committee described its "deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide".

The committee said that Catholic religious orders "are bound by obedience to the Pope" and that when the Vatican ratified the convention on the rights of the child in 1990, the Holy See "committed itself to implementing it not only on the territory of the Vatican City State but also through individuals and institutions under its authority".

The committee members were "gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed".

They also suggested that the Vatican "has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators".

The committee discussed how priests had simply been moved from one diocese to another "in an attempt to cover-up such crimes" rather than receiving any kind of discipline or limitation on their actions.

This allowed "many priests to remain in contact with children and to continue to abuse them".

The committee also contended that "those who concealed [child abuser's] crimes" should also be prosecuted.

"Due to a code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication, cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where such crimes occurred," the committee claimed.

This remains an ongoing problem as many children, the report claimed, are still at "high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children".

To combat the situation, the UN Committee called for a commission to be created by Pope Francis to investigate all cases of child sexual abuse "as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them".

Pope Francis has previously described the child abuse scandals as "the shame of the Church".

A delegation from the Holy See denied allegations of a Vatican cover-up and said there were clear guidelines now in place to protect children from abuse by priests, nuns and other figures of authority within the church.

But the UN disputed this, claiming the Catholic Church had not yet taken measures to prevent repeats of cases akin to Ireland's Magdalene laundries scandal, where girls were arbitrarily sent into forced labour.

Girls made to work in the laundries had been "forced to work in slavery-like conditions and were often subject to inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment as well as to physical and sexual abuse".

They were often deprived of food and essential medical treatment, and "prohibited from having any contact with the outside world".

The committee raised concerns that no Vatican action had been taken to hold the nuns who ran the laundries to account for the abuse. The UN has called for a full examination of the case by the Vatican, as well as "full compensation be paid to the victims and their families".

The Vatican has objected to UN's actions, claiming it is interfering with the church's teachings, since the report criticised its stance on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

However, Reuters reports that Vatican officials have said they will ensure the UN report undergoes "thorough study and examination".

In addition to ongoing sexual abuse issues, the UN also contended that children in Catholic-run institutions were still subject to severe corporal punishment.

"Ritual beatings" of children remained commonplace and had "reached endemic levels in certain countries".

In January, the Vatican confirmed that almost 400 priests had been defrocked in a two-year period by the former Pope Benedict XVI, over claims of child abuse.

Speaking to the BBC, Barbara Blaine, president of a group representing US victims of abuse by priests, said the UN report "reaffirms everything we've been saying. It shows that the Vatican has put the reputation of Church officials above protection of children".

"Church officials knew about it and they refused to stop it," she said. "Nothing has changed. Despite all the rhetoric from Pope Francis and Vatican officials, they refuse to take action that will make this stop."