Pope Francis may be enjoying popularity now as rock star of the Roman Catholic Church, evidenced by his being the cover of Time Magazine and Rolling Stone. However, that did not prevent the UN from demanding that the Church open its archives on child sex abuse cases tolerated by his predecessor.
A UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report, released on Thursday, denounced the Vatican for its policies which allowed the clergy to sexually abuse thousands of children. At the same time, it called on the Holy See - the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, to open its archives to shed light on the identity of priests whose crimes were hidden.
The committee said those clergy should be held accountable for their crimes. It also spoke against the Church practice of transferring priests and bishops accused of sex crimes to other parishes or even other countries to escape prosecution and scandal to the Church.
Besides sexual abuse, the committee likewise highlighted labour abuse, pointing to the Magdalene laundries of Ireland operated by Catholic institutions which required 10,000 females to do unpaid manual labor from 1922 to 1996.
The report also criticised Vatican's stand on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
Kirsten Sandberg, chair of the committee, said in a statement, "Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is something that we have raised with many states ... This is nothing special. We are not going outside the scope of the Convention."
While Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lauded the move of the committee to solve the problem on sex abuse, she disagreed with the inclusion of other issues such as contraception and abortion in the report.
She commented, "Unfortunately, they weakened it by throwing in the whole kitchen sink ... Those are culture war issues. Sex abuse isn't a culture war issue - it's a sin and a crime."
The official Vatican response was that it would take note of the committee's observations and will submit it to a thorough study and examination based on international law and practice. But a spokesman of the Holy See, Fr Thomas Rosica, was quoted by Newsnight as saying that while the Church acknowledges having a problem with child abuse and crimes had been committed, he accused the UN committee of going "over the top in asserting themselves in areas over which they have no competence whatsoever."
Silvano Maria Tomasi, Vatican permanent observer to the UN in Geneva, told Vatican Radio, quoted by The Washington Post, "Trying to ask the Holy See to change its teachings is not negotiable."
The UN report is also non-binding, which means it cannot enforce its recommendations.