- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

For the first time in Vatican history, leading religious heads will stand before a committee of the United Nations and face a grilling about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

The Holy See on Thursday is set to appear in Geneva before the committee that oversees the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Associated Press reported. The treaty requires participating nations to put in place legal protections for children, and to place the needs of youth above all other policy matters.

The Vatican has never defended itself in so public a setting, and on such a large stage, over widespread child sexual abuse that has occurred at the hands of Catholic priests. And among the expected questions: Why does the Church seem to protect and even shield these pedophile priests?

The Holy See ratified the convention in 1990, and sent it the first of its required progress reports three years later. But it didn’t provide any updates for about 10 years, and only gave the briefest of reports in 2012 — on the heels of a string of explosive child sex abuse cases in 2010 that rumbled out of Europe, said the AP.

Victim advocates want to know why the silence — and so do U.N. officials who are in charge of keeping abreast of treaty signatories.

“For too many years, survivors were the only ones speaking out about this and bearing the brunt of a lot of criticism,” Pam Spees, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the AP. “And so this is a very important moment for many, many people who are here in Geneva and around the world who will watching as the Holy See is called for the first time ever to actually answer questions.”

The Holy See is a sovereign state, immune from lawsuits.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said on Wednesday that the Holy See joined the treaty for the very fact that it considers children a priority, and that drawing a parallel between individual cases of abuse with the Church community at-large doesn’t make sense.

“The Holy See is not an organization in which all the priests or Catholics of the world are employees. It’s a big religious community,” he said, to the AP. “Every member of this community has responsibilities as citizens of the country where he or she lives and with the authorities of that country.”

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