VATICAN CITY — A U.N. human rights committee denounced the Vatican on Wednesday for adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, and urged it to open its files on the pedophiles and the churchmen who concealed their crimes.

In a devastating report, the U.N. committee also severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should review its policies to ensure children's rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.

On sex abuse, “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.

DOCUMENT: UN rights committee report on Vatican's policies toward sex abuse

It called for the sex abuse commission that Pope Francis announced in December to conduct an independent investigation of all cases of priestly abuse and the way the Catholic hierarchy has responded over time, and urged the Holy See establish clear rules for the mandatory reporting of abuse to police.

The committee issued its recommendations after subjecting the Holy See to a daylong interrogation last month on its implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the main international treaty ensuring children's rights. During that session, the committee's independent experts grilled the Holy See on its protection of children, working from reports prepared by victims groups and human rights organizations.

The committee's recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism. Rather, the U.N. asked the Vatican to implement the recommendations and report back by 2017. The Vatican was 14 years late submitting its most recent report.

While most attention has focused on child sex abuse, the committee's recommendations extended far beyond into issues about discrimination against children and their rights to adequate health care. By making specific recommendations to review Vatican policies on abortion and contraception, the committee waded deep into core church teaching on life. As a result, such recommendations will certainly be dismissed by the Vatican, which has a history of diplomatic confrontation with the United Nations over reproductive health care and similar issues.

Church teaching holds that life begins at conception; the Vatican therefore opposes abortion and artificial contraception.

The Vatican had no immediate comment.

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