On eve of pope's visit, priest-abuse survivors push UN for action

On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to the United States, a sex-abuse victims' organization Monday challenged the United Nations to investigate an alleged Vatican cover-up of priests who used their authority to sexually exploit children. ( dpa )

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said the UN should investigate the role of Benedict and Vatican officials in the cover-up.

Benedict is to arrive Tuesday evening in Washington, meet with US President George W Bush on Wednesday and address the United Nations on Friday on human rights issues, including the death penalty and abortion.

SNAP had hoped that some victims would be able to meet with the pope during his five-day visit to the US, but SNAP's president, Barbara Blaine, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa they had not received a response to the group's request to meet with the pontiff.

Blaine said she suspected Benedict would instead meet with "a few handpicked survivors" under pressure from US cardinals to address the issue. No such meeting has yet been announced by Catholic officials.

Benedict is however expected during his visit to address the scandal that has eroded confidence in the US Catholic Church since it broke in 2002 - possibly as early as Wednesday, when he meets with the country's bishops.

SNAP noted in its press statement that the Vatican was a signatory to the UN Charter on the Protection of the Rights of Children, but had refused to submit required reports.

"Victims are concerned that Pope Benedict, who will undoubtedly chastise nations this week for human rights violations, is administering a world wide institution in which human rights violations against children are an historic, ongoing and daily occurrence," SNAP said in a statement.

The group noted that in the US alone, nearly 6,000 clergy have been acknowledged by church officials to have sexually assaulted children.

The church has paid out billions of dollars in damage awards in the US, Ireland and elsewhere. In Los Angeles, a judge ordered the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to pay the record-setting settlement of 660 million dollars to 508 sexual abuse victims.

In 2002 alone, six US bishops and archbishops stepped down. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and his predecessors protected nearly 100 pedophile priests who raped, sodomized and otherwise sexually assaulted hundreds of young children, and moved them to new postings without informing parents.

Similar revelations followed in 2002 in at least 15 other countries, including France, Germany, Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Poland, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Mexico, Argentina, El Salvador and Chile.

SNAP charged that Benedict was in a top leadership post at the Vatican, as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, for 27 years, and should have been aware of the cover-up.

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