Vatican is 'turning a corner' in fight against child sex abuse
The Roman Catholic Church has seen a decline in cases of paedophilia after turning a corner in its efforts to tackle sexual abuse of children by priests, the Vatican said yesterday.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, its ambassador to the United Nations, told the UN Committee against Torture that the church had made significant progress in the past decade in stamping out the problem.
"There has been a stabilisation, even a decline in cases of paedophilia in the church," he said. "That shows that measures taken in the last 10 years by the Holy See and local churches are bringing about a positive result."
The claims came as Vatican officials were brought before the committee in Geneva for the first time since the Holy See signed the UN's convention against torture in 2002. Just four months ago, the Vatican was castigated for its handling of sex abuse scandals by the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child.
In the latest round of criticism, the Committee against Torture accused the Holy See of allowing sexually abusive priests to act with "impunity" against children in their care and of intimidating victims in an attempt to silence them.
While torture normally evokes images of human rights abuses in war zones or under repressive regimes, the UN Convention against Torture regards "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of people as being tantamount to torture. If the committee finds that past abuses by clergy constitute torture and inhuman treatment, thousands of victims will be able to begin legal action.
"To recognise these abuses as acts of torture would assist greatly victims," said Katherine Gallagher, a human rights lawyer for the Centre for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit legal group based in New York.
The group submitted a report to the committee highlighting the church's refusal to co-operate with police and its attempts to protect predatory priests by moving them in order to evade prosecution.
It was disingenuous for the Vatican to insist that its responsibility for implementing the anti-torture convention lay only within the confines of the Vatican City State, which has fewer than 1,000 inhabitants, rather than in the wider church, it said.
But Archbishop Tomasi claimed that it was unfair to single out the Holy See when "millions" of children around the world were sexually abused each year, "by all kinds of professions". (© Daily Telegraph, London)