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John L. Allen Jr.

Second UN panel criticizes Vatican on sex abuse

The panel cited several specific cases, including Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, a priest who returned to his native India after being charged with molesting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota in 2004 and is currently being pursued by American prosecutors.

Associated Press/File

The panel cited several specific cases, including Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, a priest who returned to his native India after being charged with molesting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota in 2004 and is currently being pursued by American prosecutors.

ROME — For the second time, a United Nations panel has criticized the Vatican for its response to the child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, charging it with failing to mandate that abuse charges be reported to police, moving clergy to evade discipline, and failing to see that victims obtain adequate compensation.

“Clergy . . . were transferred to other dioceses and institutions where they remained in contact with minors and others who are vulnerable,” the United Nations Committee against Torture charged in a new report, “and in some cases committed abuse in their subsequent placements.”

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The report follows a similar indictment from the Committee on the Rights of the Child that appeared in February, which asserted that the Vatican had fostered “impunity” for abusers.

The document from the Committee against Torture was to be released in a press conference in Geneva Friday. The Boston Globe obtained an advance copy Thursday.

Unlike the earlier UN assessment, the new report mixes criticism with praise for steps taken by the Catholic Church over the last decade to combat child abuse, including tougher legal sanctions for clergy and the creation of a new papal commission in December 2013 to press for reform. That commission includes Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston.

The committee lauded an April 11 statement by Pope Francis on the subject of child abuse, in which he said, “We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger.”

The report follows a May 6 hearing in Geneva of the Committee against Torture in which Vatican officials disclosed for the first time that over the past decade, 848 clergy have been removed from the priesthood for acts of sexual abuse and 2,572 assigned lesser sanctions, most of the latter priests who were elderly or in ill health.

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At the same time, the committee suggested that pledges of zero tolerance by church officials aren’t always effectively translated into action.

The panel cited several specific cases, including Father Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, a priest who returned to his native India after being charged with molesting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota in 2004 and is currently being pursued by American prosecutors, and Archbishop Josef Wesolowski of Poland, a former papal envoy in the Dominican Republic accused of sexual abuse both in that country and in Poland who has not been extradited from the Vatican to face charges.

The Committee against Torture also cited the so-called Magdalene laundries in Ireland, institutions for indigent women during the 19th and 20th centuries in which abuse was allegedly widespread. The panel asked the Vatican to ensure that victims “receive fair, adequate and enforceable compensation and as full rehabilitation as possible, regardless of whether perpetrators of such acts have been brought to justice.”

In its report, the panel said it was “concerned by reports’’ that Catholic officials “resist the principle of mandatory reporting’’ of abuse allegations.

Among other specific recommendations, the panel suggested the Vatican ensure that abuse complaints are pursued by independent prosecutors so there’s “no hierarchical connection between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators,” and also insisted that officials who fail to respond appropriately to abuse complaints are subject to “meaningful sanctions.”

That recommendation echoes the complaints of critics that while the church now imposes discipline on clergy who abuse, it does not have equally strong accountability for bishops and other officials who don’t take appropriate steps when abuse reports surface.

The committee called for “an independent complaints mechanism’’ where victims or others can “confidentially report allegations of abuse.’’

The UN panel also advised that a new commission established by the pope in 2013 to lead a process of reform should have “full power to investigate cases of alleged violations of the convention, [and to] ensure that the results of any of its investigations are made public and that they are promptly acted upon.” The committee asked that the Vatican respond to its concerns in a follow-up report by May 2015.

Unlike the earlier report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the new report does not venture into matters of Catholic moral teaching on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, or contraception.

The Vatican ratified the Convention against Torture in 2002, and its appearance before the UN panel in May was part of a regularly scheduled series of hearings to monitor implementation in various nations.

In comments to the Globe, the Vatican’s top envoy to the United Nations in Geneva said the report is different from the earlier document from the Committee on the Rights of the Child, calling the new document “more technical and professional.”

“It takes into account the positive steps taken by [the Vatican] and the church in general,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi of Italy, expressing gratitude that it does not accuse the Vatican of having violated the UN’s 1984 convention against torture.

Tomasi also expressed relief that the report does not imply the Catholic Church’s antiabortion stance amounts to a form of torture.

At the same time, Tomasi disputed what he called two “incorrect assumptions” that he said are in the report.

First, although the report never directly asserts that the child sexual abuse scandals in Catholicism constitute a form of torture under international law, Tomasi said such a conclusion could be inferred and claimed that it is not consistent with the text of the UN convention.

Second, Tomasi said the report assumes that “all priests around the world are legally subject to the Vatican,” when in fact, he said, the Vatican is only directly responsible for personnel serving in the small territory of the Vatican City State.

Critics, meanwhile, expressed little confidence in the Vatican’s response to the new UN report, saying it largely ignored the earlier series of recommendations from the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“It has now been 12 weeks since another United Nations panel released a lengthy report about the Church’s on-going clergy sexual violence and coverup crisis,” said a statement Thursday from the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests, the largest victims’ advocacy group in the United States. “As best we can tell, every Catholic official is ignoring every one of those recommendations,” the group’s statement asserted. “That is shameful.”

The Vatican on Friday released a formal statement in response to the UN report, largely expanding on the points Tomasi made in his Globe interview, and pledging to give “serious consideration” to the committee’s recommendations.

John L. Allen Jr. is a Globe associate editor, covering global Catholicism. He may be reached at john.allen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnLAllenJr and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/JohnLAllenJr.
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