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Vatican seeking to limit responsibility for child sex abuse before UN

[JURIST] The Vatican appeared before the Geneva committee [official websites] that oversees the UN Convention Against Torture [text] on Monday, arguing that a strict interpretation of the convention limited the church's responsibility for the international priest sex abuse scandal. The universal governing structure of the Catholic church has insisted that their obligation to protect against torture does not extend worldwide, but instead within the confines of the small Vatican City. According to the Vatican spokesperson, when officials signed the UN anti-torture treaty, they did so only on behalf of the Vatican City, rather than the universal governance. During the two hours of questioning, members of the committee pressed the Vatican to explain this distinction that could create gaps in protection. The Vatican is to respond to this line of questioning on Tuesday. If the UN committee does find that the clergy abuse constitutes torture and inhuman treatment, it could lead to numerous lawsuits from victims with decades-old claims, as there is no statute of limitations for torture cases.

The UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child [official website] in January criticized [JURIST report] the Vatican on the its handling of child sex abuse. During questioning in Geneva, committee member Sara Oviedo forced Vatican officials to acknowledge [AFP report] that the central church governance had been slow to react to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] filed [JURIST report] an International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] complaint [complaint, PDF] in 2011 against Vatican officials for systematic sexual abuse and the concealment of such incidents. The complaint was filed on behalf of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) [advocacy website] and included more than 20,000 pages of materials relating to the crimes. The claim was seen as likely to focus international attention on the issue of sexual abuse of children around the world, even if the complaint does not reach the ICC's jurisdictional standards. In 2010 the Vatican released [JURIST report] church procedures for handling alleged cases of sexual abuse by priests.

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