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The Holy See and Children’s Rights: International Human Rights Law and Its Ghosts

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The revelation of a series of child abuse incidents committed by Catholic priests and other members of religious orders has given rise to the question of establishing the responsibility of the Holy See for these acts under international human rights law. This article focuses on the report issued in 2014 by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the monitoring body of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (crc). It is argued that in order to fulfil this task we need to take three steps: first, to establish the relationship between the Vatican City state and the Hole See, a distinct and peculiar international legal subject. To do so, a historical account of the Holy See and its position within the fabric of international law is considered necessary. Secondly, this article argues that the crc was ratified by the Holy See both in its capacity as the government of the Vatican City and as a non-territorial legal subject. Hence, the application of the crc is not confined within the limited territory of the Vatican City, but ‘follows’ the authority of the Holy See irrespective of state borders. Thirdly, it is argued that the vertical, hierarchical structure of the Holy See is homologous to that of the modern state and, therefore, attribution rules can be applied by analogy in this case. The final conclusion is that it is possible to hold the Holy See responsible under the crc for acts of child abuse that occurred under its authority around the globe.

Affiliations: 1: PhD Candidate, Durham Law School, UK,


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