The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child will issue recommendations on Wednesday following an investigation into the Vatican’s response to the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. Although the recommendations are non-binding, it marks the first time the Holy See had to answer questions at an international hearing dedicated to the issue.
Priests have been convicted, and dioceses bankrupted by lawsuits. But last month’s hearing in Geneva was the first time the Vatican had to answer an international panel’s questions about pedophile priests.
The Vatican's U.N. representative Archbishop Silvano Tomasi testified.
"The Holy See has carefully delineated policies and procedures designed to help eliminate such abuse,” he said.
But the Vatican has refused to hand over detailed information on the more than 4,000 cases that have been brought to its attention.
“Right as the abuse scandals started to emerge out of Boston, I got the chance to tell my story…,” said Mark Serrano, who says he had to sue to get the church to acknowledge that his priest sodomized him in the 1970s and 80s. He says his perpetrator was reassigned to another parish and forced sex on dozens more children.
Serrano became a spokesman for American victims.
“We want all sex offenders, past , present and future removed,” he said.
And he doesn’t believe what the prelates said in Geneva.
“They obfuscate. They deny. They gloss over," Serrano said. "They offer words of reassurance. Just like words that were offered to me as a young man of reassurance from my bishop. It’s the same routine, the same act, that I witnessed 30 years ago.”
“Something very, very wrong happened in our church,” said John Carr, who now teaches at the Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington. He used to work for the U.S. Bishops Conference, and he downplays the U.N. investigation.
“The U.N. thing, that’s just fine. I think we ought to be held to account. But far more fundamental is the changes that are coming about every day in the attitudes behaviors and practices of our church,” he said.
The Vatican disclosed, a day after the Geneva hearing, that Pope Benedict had defrocked hundreds of abusive priests.
But Serrano says that bishops should also be accountable.
“Nothing will truly change, unless Pope Francis decides to excommunicate bishops for hiding child sex offenders,” he said.
Pope Francis has created a commission on protecting children. But critics say it’s a disappointing response, from a pontiff who has done much to burnish the image of the church.