The Vatican will be grilled by a UN panel over cases of child sex abuse, and will be forced to defend itself over allegations it failed to prevent the rape of thousands of children by protecting paedophile priests at the expense of victims.
The Holy See will be questioned on Thursday by a UN committee in Geneva on its implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that calls for signatories to undertake all appropriate measures to protect children from harm and to put the interests of children above all else.
The Holy See ratified the convention in 1990 and submitted a first implementation report in 1994. However, it did not provide progress reports for almost ten years, and only submitted one in 2012 after receiving a storm of criticism following the revelations in 2010 of child sex abuse cases in Europe and beyond, the Associated Press has reported.
Victims groups and human rights organisations have since rallied together to call for the UN committee to challenge the Holy See on its abuse failures, providing written testimony from victims and evidence outlining the global scale of the problem.
Their reports reference case studies from Mexico and Britain, grand jury investigations in the US, and government fact-finding inquiries from Canada to Ireland to Australia that detail how the Vatican's policies, its culture of secrecy and fear of scandal may have contributed to the problem.
In the reports they also include correspondence from a Vatican cardinal allegedly praising a French bishop's decision to protect his abusive priest, and another Vatican command to Irish bishops to strike any mandatory reporting of abusers to police from their policies.
"For too many years, survivors were the only ones speaking out about this and bearing the brunt of a lot of criticism," said Pam Spees, a human rights lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which provided a key report to the committee.
"And so this is a very important moment for many, many people who are here in Geneva and around the world who will be watching as the Holy See is called for the first time ever to actually answer questions."
The committee had also asked the Holy See to provide detailed information on all cases of abuse they are aware of, a number the Vatican has acknowledged is over 4,000.
But according to AP, in its written response to the committee submitted last month, the Vatican declined to provide such information and did not answer many of the committee's questions, arguing that it was not responsible for the actions of every Catholic, much less every priest or parish in the world.
Instead, it said it is really only responsible for implementing the UN treaty where it exercises territorial control: the 44 hectares (110 acres) of the Vatican City State in downtown Rome, where 31 children currently live.
"This representation by the Holy See is particularly disingenuous in light of the all-too-numerous accounts of efforts by bishops, archbishops, cardinals and other church officials around the world to cover up these crimes and subvert the course of justice in other states, further compounding the harm to victims," the Centre for Constitutional Rights and SNAP said in response.
Additional reporting by Associated Press