6 Feb 2014

Church 'in denial' over sex abuse

10:20 pm on 6 February 2014

An organisation representing male survivors of sexual abuse including some abused by priests, says the Catholic Church in New Zealand, like other countries, is still in denial.

In a scathing report on the Vatican's policies, the United Nations' watchdog for children's rights says Church officials imposed a code of silence on clerics and moved abusers from parish to parish in an attempt to cover up such crimes.

St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Photo: AFP

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child says "tens of thousands of children worldwide" were abused systemically for years within the Catholic Church. It urged Church hierarchy to "immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers and refer them to relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes".

The Catholic Church in New Zealand says all complaints of abuse are given to police and a code of silence has not been evident in the country for at least 20 years.

A spokesperson for its national office for professional standards, Bill Kilgallon, said cover-ups did happen in the past.

Mr Kilgallon says the Church in New Zealand was one of the first to establish clear policies to deal with sexual abuse and most of the reports it now gets are of a historical nature.

But Ken Clearwater, a spokesperson for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust, said the Church is playing down the extent of the problem in the country.

"They tried their hardest to cover it up here. They realise now that they've got to do something about it. What I'd like to see is that we have a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the institutional care of children - exactly the same as they're having in Australia at the moment."

Mr Clearwater said the trust continues to get reports of sexual abuse by priests in New Zealand and the problem here is no different to that elsewhere in the world.

In January this year, the Vatican confirmed that almost 400 priests had been defrocked in a two-year period by Pope Benedict XVI over claims of child abuse.

However, it believes the UN's report is distorted, unfair and ideologically biased. Its ambassador to the UN, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, said it ignores the Church's efforts to improve child protection.