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Vatican must step up measures to end child abuse after Pope’s secrecy ruling, says UN expert

19 December 2019

GENEVA (19 December 2019) – The decision by Pope Francis to abolish the Roman Catholic Church’s secrecy policy in child sexual abuse cases is a welcome long-awaited step – now the Vatican must move to ensure justice and redress for all victims, a UN Special Rapporteur has said.

“The veil of secrecy which surrounded these abominable crimes and which prevented victims obtaining justice and reparation has been lifted,” said Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

“This welcome move by the Pope, which acknowledges the scale of the crisis, means that victims will no longer have to live in the despair that these crimes will go unnoticed and unpunished. Now that transparency within Church hierarchies has been achieved, the road to secular civil and criminal accountability for these abuses is open.

“However, it is only a first step. The Vatican should now take all necessary measures to ensure that justice and redress for victims around the world is delivered through prompt and thorough investigations that are subject to public scrutiny, the prosecution of alleged perpetrators, and enforce mandatory reporting for all clergy and staff who have knowledge of these heinous acts.

“The Church should also enforce zero tolerance policies on child sexual abuse in all institutions under its oversight, making sure it immediately dismisses those found to have abused children.”

The Special Rapporteur said that, despite several landmark historical cases, allegations of sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy continue to be voiced and are “deeply worrying”.

All victims deserve redress and rehabilitation, she added, given the extent of harm suffered, and the impact on the lives of survivors and their communities.

“For decades the scourge of abuse against children has been utterly ignored, denied or rebranded as a sin that could be absolved if forgiveness was sought,” she said.

“The Church should provide victims with the means to access counselling and social support as a matter of urgency.

“National governments should complement these efforts with public education and social services. Indeed, all States must ensure they have fully taken up their role to protect children from such egregious human rights abuses.

“We have victims to thank for the courage to speak out on this devastating issue, but the burden of addressing this evil should not fall on them alone. The world is waiting for States and the Church to live up to their duty to end this scourge. Actions must follow words.”

In the wake of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography next year, it was crucial for the Catholic church to live up to its responsibilities, at every level of its hierarchy, she added.


MsMaud de Boer-Buquicchio (Netherlands) was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2014. She served as Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe between 2002 and 2012. Ms de Boer-Buquicchio spearheaded the adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. She is the President of the European Federation for Missing and Exploited Children.   
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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