Punish the guilty

The report of the UN committee on the rights of the child on child abuse in the Catholic church is the harshest ever indictment of the church by a non-partisan body on an issue that has for long roiled  and tainted the image of the church.

The watchdog agency has pointed out that tens of thousands of children have been abused for years within the church and has called upon the church leadership to remove all known and suspected abusers from their positions and hand them over to law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution. The tone, tenor and words of the report are uncharacteristically harsh for a UN body and this shows how strongly and seriously the organisation has viewed a scandalous and criminal practice which the church has not been serious about rooting out.

While it is well known that sexual abuse of children is a shameful reality, the church was in the past in complete denial of it. But with a large number of instances of abuse coming into the open and with criticism mounting all over the world, it has been forced to recognise its existence. Even then it has shied away from accepting the extent of its prevalence. Actions against offenders even in known cases have not been certain and frequent. As the UN body’s report pointed out, the worst punishment has been shifting the offenders to other places where they would even continue with the abuse. The abuse of children is a criminal offence punishable under the laws of all countries. It is not for the church to take action which it considers fit in such cases. The offenders have to be brought to justice and made to pay for their crimes.

The church authorities should heed the call and take immediate and effective steps to eliminate sexual crimes against children by the clergy and officials. The Vatican is a signatory of the UN convention on the rights of the child and is duty-bound to protect them. However, the response of the Vatican is not helpful. Pope Francis, who has tried to change the face of the papacy in the last one year and has spoken out against many of the vices in the church, should take the initiative to address the problem with sincerity and all the authority and power that go with his office.

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