Child sex abuse: UN questions Australian government over Vatican stance

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Child abuse: UN questions Australian government over Vatican stance

The federal government has told a UN committee it is up to Australia’s child sex abuse royal commission to get the Vatican to hand over documents about paedophile priests, reports the Guardian Vice chair of the UN Committee Against Torture, Felice Gaer, had queried on Monday whether the Australian government’s refusal to investigate perpetrators of child abuse was “compliant or wilfully inactive”.

The committee sitting to review Australia’s record as a signatory to the Convention Against Torture has received submissions from non-government organisations including two from networks representing Australian survivors of institutional and clerical child sex abuse.

Gaer asked specifically what action the government had taken when Cardinal George Pell told a royal commission it was unreasonable to ask the Vatican to hand over all documents relevant to sex abuse by priests in Australia.

In August the cardinal told a public hearing of the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse in Melbourne that Vatican documents on specific cases would be and had been supplied but it was not appropriate to hand them all over as they were the private internal documents of a sovereign state – the Holy See.

The Australian delegation led by John Quinn told the committee on Tuesday that the royal commission had statutory powers to compel the provision of documents should it wish to do so.

As the commission is independent of government it is a matter for that royal commission to decide how it will proceed with that [Vatican] inquiry, a spokesman said.

Gaer said she wanted the delegation to answer whether the Australian government agrees that such documentation is the sovereign property of another government and whether such a request was unreasonable.

The Australian delegation now has 48 hours to respond to these and other questions from the committee.

Niamh Harris
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