The United Nations has demanded the Vatican “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers and turn them over to authorities.

In an unprecedented report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said Catholic Church officials had imposed a “code of silence” on clerics to prevent them reporting attacks to police, and moved abusers from parish to parish “in an attempt to cover up such crimes”.

It said the Holy See must hand over its archives on the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children so culprits, as well as “those who concealed their crimes”, can be held accountable.

The Vatican responded quickly, saying the church was committed to “defending and protecting the rights of the child” and promising to give the UN report “thorough examination”.

However, it also added the UN was interfering in Catholic moral teachings because the report also criticised its positions on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

The watchdog’s exceptionally blunt paper – the UN’s broadest critique of the Catholic hierarchy – followed its public grilling of Vatican officials last month.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report said.

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