THE United Nations has singled out Ireland's Magdalene laundries scandal as part of a devastating onslaught on the Catholic Church's handling of clerical abuse.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse of children by priests, and demanded it immediately turn over known or suspected offenders to face justice.
And the UN committee launched a scathing attack on Ireland's shameful treatment of women incarcerated in the Magdalene laundries.
Crucially, the UN report stated that the Magdalene women who were "arbitrarily confined" in institutions run by four religious orders of sisters should be paid compensation by the church.
The United Nations report was issued on the same day that Pope Francis met Philomena Lee, the campaigner who has called on the Government to open up adoption records and reunite mothers separated from their children as a result of forced adoption.
She was accompanied by British actor Steve Coogan, who starred in a film about her story last year.
Late last year, the four religious orders – the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity and the Good Shepherd Order – told Justice Minister Alan Shatter for a second time that they would not contribute to paying compensation to the women who survived.
Mr Shatter has revealed that the government redress scheme for Magdalene survivors, which will come out of taxpayers' pockets, will cost up to €58m. Some women will receive up to €100,000.
The scheme was initiated after the damning report by former High Court judge John Quirke.
The UN said the Vatican needed to launch a full investigation into the Magdalene laundries scandal in which thousands of women and girls were abused and enslaved.
The report said those who abused and exploited the women incarcerated in the laundries should be prosecuted if they are still alive.
In unprecedented criticism, the UN accused the Vatican of "systematically" adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades.
It urged the Holy See to open its files on internal abuse investigations and name bishops who concealed their crimes.
It also criticised the Holy See for its attitudes towards homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children's rights and their access to healthcare were guaranteed.
The report also deals with the issue of corporal punishment, and notes the findings of the Ryan Report in Ireland.
It expressed "concern" that "while corporal punishment, including ritual beatings of children, has been and remains widespread in some Catholic institutions and reached endemic levels in certain countries, as revealed notably by the Ryan Commission in Ireland, the Holy See still does not consider corporal punishment as being prohibited by the Convention (for Rights Of The Child)."
It said the Vatican had not enacted guidelines clearly banning corporal punishment of children in Catholic schools, or Catholic institutions working with children, as well as in the home.
Irish advocacy group One in Four welcomed the findings.
"This report by an international neutral body confirms what has long been suspected: that the Vatican had a far greater knowledge of the extent of clerical sexual abuse than it has ever acknowledged," executive director Maeve Lewis said.
"This vindicates absolutely what survivors of abuse have been saying over the past decade."
The Vatican's ambassador to the UN accused the committee of "having betrayed the international body's own objectives by allowing itself to be swayed by pro-gay ideologues".
He said it appeared the committee had simply not listened when the Holy See outlined all the measures it had taken to protect children.
The report heaps pressure on Pope Francis to fulfil his pledge to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it.
It followed a day-long interrogation of senior Vatican officials by the UN last month that focused on the church's implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the key UN treaty on child protection.
Critically, the committee rejected the Vatican's long-standing argument that it doesn't control bishops or their abusive priests.
It said the Holy See was responsible for implementing the treaty not just in the Vatican City state but around the world.