Victims urge UN to challenge Vatican on child abuse

The Catholic Church must be held to account by a UN human rights watchdog for doing too little to halt and expose paedophile priests, victims of abuse by the clergy said Tuesday.

David Clohessy, director of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he had few hopes of a massive shake up by Pope Francis, who since being elected in March has made several pronouncements urging action.

"They can trot out all the impressive policies and procedures and promises they want," Clohessy said ahead of a meeting with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is due to examine the Vatican's record in coming months.

"We're dealing with a well-established, longstanding, extraordinarily powerful global monarchy, that really has few or any checks and balances on its power," he told reporters.

"That's why we're increasingly turning to international institutions that we believe have the clout and the reach and indeed the duty to step in," he added.

SNAP also has been pressing the International Criminal Court to hear a complaint by victims from around the world.

"All around the globe, frankly, we see the same pattern over and over again. And that pattern can be summed up essentially as continued recklessness and callousness and deceit on matters of sexual violence and cover up of that violence," said Clohessy.

The abuse issue burst into the spotlight over a decade ago with the start of a cascade of scandals from Ireland to the United States and from Australia to Germany.

Child abuse by priests has often been coupled with cover-ups by their superiors, typically by transferring them to other parishes, rather than turning them over to secular justice authorities.

Pope Francis' predecessor Benedict XVI was the first pope to apologise to victims and called for zero tolerance against sexual abuse by priests, though campaigners claim the rhetoric outstrips results.

"The issue is not what's written on paper, it's not policies and procedures. It's behaviour," said Clohessy, noting that actions on the ground varied hugely depending individual bishops who run the world's 5,000 dioceses.

The Vatican says it continues to receive around 600 claims against abusive priests every year, many of them dating back to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Victims' groups, however, say the issue is far from settled.

"It's not one, or two, or a dozen, or a hundred. We believe that it's thousands and even tens of thousands of children across the globe that are at risk even today," said SNAP's president Barbara Blaine.