Call for UN children’s rights committee to act in light of poor Catholic Church response


September 15, 2017 | By David Greenwood |

September 15, 2017 | By David Greenwood |

David Greenwood has been actively campaigning to improve the Catholic Church’s responses to reports of clergy abuse.

He started actively campaigning in 2010 when the last Pope, Ratzinger came to London. He set up the pressure group Stop Church Child Abuse and continues to educate professionals, expose cover ups and take legal action against churches.

He advised NGOs who presented evidence to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in June 2013 and January 2014. The UNCRC report denounced the Catholic Church and required it to change wholesale its lamentable approach to safeguarding.

Three years on, the Catholic Church has completely failed to take any steps to meet its UN treaty obligations. David and his colleague at Survivors Voice Europe have penned the letter below to the UN committee in the hope that the UN will threaten the Holy See with expulsion from the UN organisation.

Letter to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Warwickshire, UK
6th September 2017

I am once again writing to you in my capacity as co-founder of Surivors Voice Europe regarding the 2014 complaint made by us against the Holy See to the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child. After hearing our evidence, and that of other NGOs, and investigating further, the committee found the Holy See were very definitely in breach of several articles of the Rights of the Child over many decades, and clear directives were given for specific and robust changes to be made in the safeguarding of children, the treatment of abuse survivors, the protection of offenders, the holding on to incriminating documents, moving offending priests from parish to parish, and the covering up of crimes.

Click here to read the committee’s recommendations.

Those changes were to be completed and a report given to the UN committee by September 1st 2017. No such changes have been made, and no report has been submitted. The reality is that in the three years since we gave evidence, the incidences of child sexual abuse by clergy has escalated and we are still seeing no changes made by the Vatican.

We only have to consider the enormous complaints in Guam, and also in Australia and Ireland, to be clear that these violent crimes against children continue unchallenged.

Our own experiences of victims coming forward worldwide is continuing to rise at a disturbing rate. The arrests made, and the further complaints, are being summarily dismissed by the Vatican who still feel they are above the law and seemingly above the directions made to them by the UN committees. (After our further deposition, they were further found in breach of the articles of the UN Committee Against Torture.)

The formation of the dysfunctional papal “commission” is typical of the lip service being paid to the charges against them. It has shown a consistent disregard for survivors. Pope Frances’ declaration that he would have “zero tolerance” for bishops who protect paedophile priests and vigorously penalise them has been meaningless window dressing.

It is our firmly held opinion that the Vatican are incapable of policing themselves, nor should they be allowed to do so.

It seems they have a low opinion of the intelligence of survivors groups, and indeed of the UN, to imagine that we don’t view this impotent commission as a cynical PR exercise, which shows nothing but contempt for those of us who have suffered at their hands.

The Royal Commission in Australia has shown determination in trying to bring criminal priests to justice, to the extent of arresting one of the most prominent cardinals (Pell). But I doubt that the Vatican will attempt to comply with any of their recommendations for safeguarding or submitting themselves to further scrutiny. The British Independent Committee, which is about to examine the conduct of the catholic church next year, will I know, after hearing individual and organisational evidence, be made aware of many outrageous incidences of clergy abuse, cover ups, regular shipping of errant clergy to overseas parishes where they inevitably continued their abuses.

They will find the church here inadequate, evasive and defensive, following the same rhetoric churned out by the Vatican. What we feel sure about is that they won’t achieve any kind of change from the Vatican, or the Catholic Church here in Britain.

On a personal note, I have to say that my colleague Ton Leershcool from the Netherlands and I, who came to Geneva to give evidence, at great personal cost, were so encouraged by the committee’s willingness to listen and show their determination to help put a stop to decades of violent sexual abuses against children by catholic clergy, after we had been so frustrated in the past by many attempts to shine a spotlight on the catholic church’s crimes.

So we gritted our teeth, and sat in the same room as the Vatican representatives and listened for six hours to the Vatican’s response to those accusations as they lied, and contradicted themselves, and even at one point laughed. It was quite an ordeal.

We were then quite elated when the ruling came from the committee recognising and highlighting those breaches, and making their recommendations. So it is deeply disappointing to us that these directives have been ignored, although we do see the church’s disregarding of them to be consistent with their contempt for others, flaunting this, and most other laws of the land, and therefore comes as no surprise.

Our suspicion is also that the Vatican is once again playing for time, seeing those of us who have been active in this battle against them for so long as an aging population, and relying on us to die. Then the next group of child clergy abuse victims (and there WILL be more) will have to begin the fight again, which will take just as long.

It will always be passionate survivors who champion this cause.

I would now like to add, from our lawyer David Greenwood, a renowned specialist child abuse lawyer, specific information about catholic “secret courts”.

We have seen that the Roman Catholic Church has a clear set of rules administered centrally with which all members must comply. The Crimen decree from the Vatican dated 16 March 1962 required investigation in secrecy was reinforced by the letter written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on 18 May 2001, endorsing the maintenance of secrecy and that no report should be made to the civil authorities such as the police after the child has reached the age of 28 (most cases). This 2001 letter is known as “De Delictis Gravioribus” letter.

A copy of the “Crimen” document can be found at the Vatican’s website: http://www.vatican.va/resources/resources_crimensollicitationis-1962_en.html

The De Delictis letter can be found at a website which operates to record church abuse: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/resources/resource-files/churchdocs/EpistulaEnglish.htm

This means Catholic law requires their Bishops to deal with cases in house and not to refer them to the police or social services.

Despite the United Nations Committee of the Rights of the Child looking into the Holy See and denouncing its policies on allowing paedophiles to remain within its organisation, neither spokespersons nor the Pope have taken constructive measures to implement the UN’s recommendations.


It is of real concern that this global organisation maintains its dangerous policies in many parts of the world. The reality is that, even in developed countries, Catholic priests are held in such high esteem that their crimes are often overlooked. The level of secrecy operated by the Catholic Church means that figures on its effectiveness in repelling allegations are not available. The process of taking action against a priest is extremely convoluted and openly favours the accused. It can only be used where there is good evidence (to be determined by the Bishop), the whole procedure is kept secret, there is no jury, any appeal automatically suspends the penalty, no adverse inference can be drawn from a cleric’s silence, the accused is the only person at the hearing allowed to give evidence free from being under oath, and a final decision is made with a standard of proof known as “moral certitude”, which seems to suggest the Bishop can essentially decide for himself whether it is “fair” to impose a sanction. The sanctions themselves, as we know, bear no relation to those found in the secular justice system. The most grievous sanction is excommunication, hardly a serious penalty for very serious crimes against children.

For more detail the Catholic procedures are set out as an information sheet entitled Disciplinary Penal Process for Clerics at section 5 at this website: http://www.csasprocedures.uk.net/contents.html

We would charge the UN committee to act swiftly and robustly to challenge the Holy See in this matter. I believe you have a unique opportunity now to show the rest of the world, and other official bodies, your contempt for the Holy See’s flagrant disregard of this process. Until somebody takes some concrete punitive action against them, the children of the world remain at great risk.

Sue Cox, Survivors Voice Europe

David Greenwood, Director, Solicitor & Head of Child Abuse Department, Switalskis Solicitors

You can see our original deposition here: http://survivorsvoice-europe.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Initial-Deposition-to-the-UN-1.pdf

In response, we were then invited to a pre-sessional meeting in Geneva in June, where we gave evidence to support our accusations, made a further presentation, and answered questions to the committee for three hours.

This was what we presented: http://survivorsvoice-europe.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/CRC-Introduction-Sue-Cox.pdf

The CRC made subsequent requests, which we replied to and these can all be found and they can be found on our website: http://survivorsvoice-europe.org/?p=6678

Our submission to the UN Committee Against Torture can be found here: http://survivorsvoice-europe.org/?p=6841

David Greenwood

David Greenwood leads our child abuse compensation team. He is an award-winning Solicitor with a national reputation in his field and a prominent campaigner for the rights of victims of childhood abuse. David's profile

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