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UN panel criticizes Vatican

Blasts handling of alleged sex abuse, cultural teachings

– A United Nations committee Wednesday issued a scathing indictment of the Catholic Church’s handling of child sexual abuse involving clerics, releasing a report that went far beyond how the church responded to abuse allegations and included criticism of its teachings on homosexuality, gender equality and abortion.

“The Committee is concerned that the Holy See and Church-run institutions do not recognize the existence of diverse forms of families and often discriminate against children on the basis of their family situation,” the report by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said.

Addressing the long-running clergy sexual abuse scandal, the authors wrote: “Child victims and their families have often been blamed by religious authorities, discredited and discouraged from pursuing their complaints and in some instances humiliated.”

The report demanded that the Vatican immediately turn over to criminal investigators any clerics known or suspected of abuse. It condemned a “code of silence” within the church against reporting acts of abuse to authorities, and called on the Vatican to release a mountain of documents on internal investigations of abuse cases around the globe.

The scope of the report appeared to infuriate the Vatican – which last month sent two top officials to appear before the U.N. committee in Geneva for the first public accounting of the Holy See’s handling of abuse allegations. Officials said they were still studying the findings, but they responded angrily to what they described as recommendations that were ideologically biased and said the United Nations had no right to weigh in on a broad range of socially conservative church teachings.

“Trying to ask the Holy See to change its teachings is not negotiable,” Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio.

At a time when the Vatican has ridden a wave of positive publicity surrounding Pope Francis, the report once again shone a spotlight on the single largest stain on the Catholic Church’s global image: Its handling of allegations of sexual abuse by clerics.

But the committee also condemned church doctrine that it views as out of step with the principles of human rights and child welfare. In blunt language that was a sharp departure from the polite wording so often embraced by diplomats, the committee took particularl aim at church stances on sexual orientation, reproductive health and gender equality.

“While also noting as positive the progressive statement delivered in July 2013 by Pope Francis, the Committee is concerned about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples,” the report said.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said “anyone bringing attention to the problem (of sex abuse) is moving toward solving it.” But she criticized the U.N. report for weaving issues like contraception and abortion into the report.

“Unfortunately they weakened it by throwing in the whole kitchen sink,” she said Wednesday. “Those are culture war issues. Sex abuse isn’t a culture war issue – it’s a sin and a crime.”