The UNCRC and the Holy See

How Issues of Statehood, Attribution and Immunity Constrain Children’s Rights


  • Carmelo Danisi
  • Tomas Caprara



This contribution analyses the complex problems arising from the application of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to the Holy See. Taking the continuous scandal of sexual abuses on children within the Catholic Church as a case study, it highlights the still persistent tension within international law between the protection of sovereignty and the full enjoyment of human rights, including children’s rights. To this end, after a preliminary analysis of the Holy See’s sui generis international legal personality, this contribution investigates two issues that prevent the Holy See from being held responsible for violation of children’s rights under international law. First, it examines the attribution of the conduct of local bishops/priests accused of sexual abuses worldwide to the Holy See, also in light of Pope Francis’ latest institutional reforms. Second, it addresses the immunity granted to the Holy See in these circumstances, thus questioning the rationale of such immunity when children are involved. Indeed, this article argues that, despite the Holy See having ratified the UNCRC (Article 34 of which calls on parties to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse), children’s rights and their best interests are generally ignored when the sexual abuse plague within the Church is encountered in international fora.

Keywords: UNCRC; Holy See; Vatican City State; international law of responsibility; immunity; sexual abuses.


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Special Section: Children's Rights: Contemporary Issues in Law and Society (Part 2)