July 15th, 2010
07:38 AM ET
The Catholic Church must not sweep abuse by priests "under the carpet," a top U.N. official said Thursday in unprecedented criticism by the United Nations of how the Vatican has handled the crisis.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was "not at all" happy with how the Catholic Church has handled allegations of child abuse by clergy.
"There are children who are now coming forward on this issue and they are still hurting. They need to see justice being done," she said on CNN's "Connect the World" program.
She was speaking the same day the Catholic Church announced rules aimed at stopping the abuse of children by priests, but her comments were not in direct response to the new rules.
"I would call for an investigation, and a revamping of the rules, and not to ignore that this is taking place on a large scale," she said. The Vatican says only a tiny minority of clergy have molested children.
Other child-safety campaigners also criticized the Vatican Thursday.
"The pope had a chance to do something really decisive that would affect the situation worldwide," said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.
Instead, she said, the Vatican issued rules that are the equivalent of "bringing a child's sand shovel to an avalanche."
The new regulations give the pope the authority to defrock a priest or to hand out other punishments without a formal Vatican trial.
They make it a crime for a priest to download child pornography. The rules also say the abuse of mentally handicapped people is as bad as child abuse. And they double the statute of limitations on church prosecution of suspected molesters from 10 to 20 years.
Separately, they also declare it to be a "sin against the sacraments" to ordain a woman as a priest.
Doyle said she wants the Vatican to do much more, including ending "secretive tribunals" of priests accused of abuse.
"The church must release lists of credibly accused priests," she said.
Naming suspected abusers "serves a public safety function," she said, and is "not only reasonable, it's absolutely crucial."
It would help victims to have abusive priests named even if they are dead, she said.
"I know a family that was utterly destroyed by the abuse of four siblings" who were all molested by the same priest, she said.
"It tore apart a devout Catholic family. Some of them are not speaking to each other," she said. "It would be of enormous help to them for the bishops just to say, 'We know there are allegations against him.'"
Barbara Dorris, who campaigns on behalf of abuse victims, said punishing abusive priests would not solve the problem.
"Defrocking a predator, by definition, is too late. Severe harm has already been done. So the focus must be on the front end, not the back end, of the crisis," said Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
And a former priest who now helps victims to sue the church said there is nothing new in the regulations issued Thursday.
"There is no change in form from what Pope Pius V said in 1568, [or] Pope Benedict XIV said in 1741," said Patrick Wall, who was trained in church law by the man who is now the Vatican's chief prosecutor of priests accused of abuse.
He said what matters is what the pope does, not what the rules say.
"Authority to act, as it always has, remains with the pope or his delegates," Wall said. "The entire system is dependent on the action of the pope alone ... acting to protect children first and the institution second."
The man who trained Wall in church law is Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who helped write the new rules.
He too said it was the implementation that mattered most.
"A document is always a document. It does not solve all the problems," he said. "It is a very important instrument, but then it is the way you use the instrument that is going to have the real effect on the life of the church."
The new rules come in response to thousands of recent allegations of child abuse by priests in the United States, Europe and Latin America.
They deal only with how the church itself handles allegations of abuse, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.
Church law already orders Catholic clergy to comply with the civil law of the country they live in if they suspect child abuse is taking place, he said.
CNN Senior Vatican Analyst John Allen said the long-awaited new guidelines make "relatively minor" changes.
"They take what is already existing practice and make it church law," he said.
He doubted they would satisfy the Vatican's critics.
"The story here is a kind of disconnect between the Vatican, which seems to think that business as usual is enough, and the rest of the world, who are waiting for a dramatic symbol of change," he said.
"These revisions will likely come across to critics as the Vatican rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."
CNN's Hada Messia and Pamela Sellers contributed to this report.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.