, GENEVA, January 16- The Vatican insisted Thursday it is committed to stamping out sexual abuse by the clergy, as top Church officials were grilled before the UN’s child rights watchdog.
The hearing came as Pope Francis said all Catholics should feel “shame”, in an apparent reference to the scandals that have rocked the Church for more than a decade.
Under the spotlight at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, the Vatican delegation insisted it understood what it had to do to root out sexual crimes.
“The Holy See gets it, that certain things have to be done differently,” said Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former top prosecutor.
“It’s not words, it has to be commitment on the ground, on the level of the local churches,” he told the committee.
The Roman Catholic Church has faced a cascade of scandals involving child sexual abuse by priests and Catholic lay officials, from Ireland to the United States and from Australia to Germany.
Pope Francis, who has vowed zero tolerance of abuse since he was elected last March, said the scandals “are the shame of the Church.”
“Do we feel shame? There are so many scandals that I do not want to name them individually but everyone knows about them!” the pope said in a homily on Thursday.
Like other signatories of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Vatican agrees to submit regular reports on its respect for the rules, and to be scrutinised by an 18-member watchdog panel.
Thursday’s session — a regular review of the Holy See’s rights record, and not exclusively focused on the abuse issue — marked the Vatican’s second appearance before the committee.
The first was in 1995, before the abuse cases burst into the spotlight.
UN committee member Hiranthi Wijemanne charged that perpetrators were too often shielded by the Church hierarchy.
“Why is there no mandatory reporting to a country’s judicial authorities when crimes occur? Taking actions against perpetrators is part of justice,” she asked the Vatican’s delegation.
Past cases of abuse were often covered up by priests’ superiors, who typically transferred offenders to new parishes, rather than turn them over to police.
Scicluna insisted this was not Church policy.
“It is not a policy of the Holy See to encourage cover-ups,” he said. “Our guideline has always been that domestic law of the countries where the churches operate needs to be followed,” he added.
The Vatican’s UN ambassador, Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, said the Holy See was legally responsible only for implementing the UN Convention on the tiny territory of Vatican City — a position long criticised by campaigners.
But he said that as the central body of the Church the Vatican was working with its local branches to develop measures to stem sexual abuse.
It was up to nations to crack down, Tomasi insisted.
“Priests are not functionaries of the Vatican. Priests are citizens of their own state and fall under its jurisdiction,” he underlined.