UN torture watchdog urges Vatican to pursue sex criminals

GENEVA (REUTERS) - The United Nations torture watchdog called on the Vatican on Friday to cooperate with civil authorities in prosecuting all cases of suspected sexual abuse by paedophile priests and to set up its own independent complaints mechanism.

It was the second time this year that a UN human rights body has criticised how Roman Catholic officials have handled the decades-long sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Victims accuse the Vatican of still protecting abusers and covering up sex crimes, failing to punish perpetrators, refer them to the authorities or provide adequate compensation.

The Vatican told the committee last week the Church's accusers were "fossilised in the past" when attitudes were different. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said the Church had developed model child protection policies over the last decade that other states and institutions might emulate.

The UN Committee against Torture, which examined the Holy See's record earlier this month, said Vatican officials should monitor priests and "stop and sanction" conduct that violates the UN treaty against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The pact is known as the CAT.

It rejected the Vatican's position that the Holy See has jurisdiction only in the tiny Vatican City State.

Any priest suspected of committing sexual abuse should be immediately suspended from his duties pending investigation and should not be transferred to another diocese to avoid punishment, it said.

The Vatican should "take effective measures to ensure that allegations received by its officials concerning violations of the Convention (against Torture) are communicated to the proper civil authorities to facilitate their investigation and prosecution of alleged perpetrators."

The UN committee, composed of 10 independent experts, said that the Holy See had a responsibility under the treaty that extended to its officials working worldwide.

It specifically voiced concern at the case of Father Joseph Jayapaul, a priest formally accused of sexually abusing youth in Minnesota in the United States, who has returned to his native India.

It called on the Vatican to investigate Polish Archbishop Joseph Wesolowski and ensure that if warranted he is criminally prosecuted or extradited to the Dominican Republic to face charges of alleged abuse.

Wesolowski was recalled last August to the Vatican, which said a month later that it would cooperate with authorities investigating him on suspicion of paedophilia.

The UN committee voiced deep concern at reports by many victims that they have been unable to obtain redress and at a"refusal" by four religious orders that ran the Magdalene laundries in Ireland to contribute to a compensation fund.

Women, many unmarried mothers, sent to the laundries were made to work in slave-like conditions, and were often subject to cruel and degrading treatment as well as abuse, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said in February.

In a statement on Friday, the Holy See said that the UN torture committee had not found it in violation of the treaty and had recognised its "important efforts to prevent sexual abuse against minors and others". "The Holy See condemns sex abuse as a serious crime and a grave violation of human dignity," it said.

Regarding the UN torture watchdog's specific cases and demands, it said: "The Holy See takes note and will give serious consideration to these recommendations."

The Holy See said the UN body did not expressly conclude that rape or sexual abuse constitutes torture, but appeared to make an "implicit fundamental assumption" that it was. "Such an assumption is neither supported by the text of the CAT nor has it been accepted to date by human rights authorities," it said.

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