The United Nations demanded that the Vatican "immediately remove" all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers and turn them over to civil authorities, in an unprecedented and scathing report on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said church officials had imposed a "code of silence" on clerics to prevent them from 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 an archive of evidence about the abuse of tens of thousands of children, and take measures to prevent a repeat of cases such as the scandal of Ireland's Magdalene laundries, where girls were forced to work in church-run institutions.
The Vatican responded quickly, saying the Roman Catholic Church was committed to "defending and protecting the rights of the child" and promising to give the U.N. report "thorough study and examination".
Pope Francis has called sexual abuse of children "the shame of the Church" and has vowed to continue procedures put in place by his predecessor Benedict XVI.
The report said a commission that Francis set up in December should invite outside experts and victims to participate in an investigation of abusers "as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them".