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Human Rights

Activists Demand Justice for Victims of Clerical Sex Abuse in Mexico

MEXICO CITY, Jul 25 2013 (IPS) - Human rights groups are calling for the Committee on the Rights of the Child to bring the Mexican state to account, as it has done in other countries, for failing to investigate widespread reports of sexual abuse of minors in Catholic institutions.

Experts consulted by IPS said the lack of action by the Mexican authorities and justice system violated the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the Unite Nations General Assembly in 1989 and went into effect in 1990.

“There is a high level of impunity,” Juan Martín Pérez, the head of the Red por los Derechos de la Infancia en México (REDIM – Network for Children’s Rights in Mexico), told IPS. “There is clear evidence of collusion between the authorities and the Catholic Church, so cases seldom wind up in court.

“The high-profile cases show the power of the church. It is one of the powers-that-be that is untouchable.

“Protecting children is a duty, at school, in the home, and in church…Usually the excuse is that these are areas of private life,” he said.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which monitors and reports on implementation of the Convention, is made up of 18 independent experts, including two from Latin America – Sara de Jesús Oviedo from Ecuador and Wanderlino Nogueira Neto from Brazil.

Mexico’s fourth and fifth periodic reports were due in April 2011, but were not completed until June 2012. And the combined report does not discuss paedophilia or measures to combat it.

The scandal over sex abuse of children and adolescents by Catholic priests broke out in the United States in 2002 before spreading to European countries like Germany, Ireland and Belgium, and to Latin America, especially Mexico and Chile.

“The state has not taken action and the Church has protected its own, reassigning priests to different parishes without even facing up to the issue or apologising to the victims. The state has never taken a stand on the matter,” Nashieli Ramírez, the coordinator of Ririki Intervención Social, a civil society organisation working with children and teenagers, told IPS.

According to the Mexican bishops’ conference, there are 5,000 seminarians in 145 seminaries and 15,000 priests in Mexico.

The Church leadership in Mexico has stated that it will follow the Vatican’s new guidelines and respect the reforms approved, in order to prevent sexual abuse and penalise the perpetrators.

They were referring to the Jul. 11 announcement by Pope Francis – who is now visiting Brazil – of an overhaul of the laws that govern the Vatican city-state.

The reform of Church law, to take effect in September, stiffened penalties for physical or sexual abuse of children, child prostitution and the creation or possession of child pornography.

In April 2012, the Mexican bishops’ conference approved guidelines to prevent and eradicate sexual abuse in churches. The guidelines are focused on the selection of candidates for the priesthood, taking into account factors like personality, psychology, spirituality and vocation.

In May 2011, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had instructed bishops all over the world to prepare clear procedures to handle cases of abuse, to be implemented by May 2012.

At the 62nd session of the CRC, held Jan. 14 to Feb. 1, 2013 in Geneva, the Committee on the rights of the Child harshly censured the United States for its failure to take action against clerical sex abuse.

“The Committee is deeply concerned at information of sexual abuse committed by clerics and leading members of certain faith-based organisations and religious institutions on a massive and long-term scale and about the lack of measures taken by the state party to properly investigate cases and prosecute those accused who are members of those organisations and institutions,” it said in its observations.

The Vatican has also come under the scrutiny of the CRC, which has asked for information on measures adopted against clerical sexual abuse, to be provided by November.

Ahead of its 65th session, to be held Jan. 13-31, 2014, the CRC has asked the Vatican to “provide detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns or brought to the attention of the Holy See over the reporting period,” on measures adopted, investigations and legal proceedings against perpetrators, and support for victims.

Children’s rights activists are again blaming the state for negligence, as they did in 2005 in their shadow report to the CRC titled “Infancias mexicanas, rostros de la desigualdad” (Mexican Children: Faces of Inequality).

The report concluded that “information on sexual abuse by priests is not available to those responsible for guaranteeing due process of defence and protection for human rights, particularly of children.”

And it denounced that “the concealment of information by the Catholic hierarchy has hindered victims in filing claims.”

In 2010 the Mexican Congress approved a reform of the Federal Law on the Protection of the Rights of Children and Adolescents, criminalising paedophilia.

The law compels religious organisations to report ministers who sexually abuse children and adolescents, on pain of losing their accreditation.

Experts complain they are still not seeing concrete results from these actions.

“The state must develop mechanisms to protect children and overcome impunity,” Pérez said. “It is important to change civil codes that whitewash sexual abuse, like the offence of statutory rape (sexual intercourse with a minor) where the laws protect the perpetrator rather than the victim and avoid prison sentences. Mechanisms are needed to prevent abuse and to report those responsible for abuse.”

NGOs are preparing their shadow report for the 69th session of the CRC, to be held from May to June 2015, when Mexico is due for evaluation of its official report. The NGOs’ report will include cases of sex abuse by priests.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a support group for victims all over the world, has identified at least 65 priests in Mexico involved in sexual offences, none of whom has gone to prison.

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