By Alexander Smith
The United Nations heavily criticized the Vatican on Wednesday for what it said was a systematic adoption of policies allowing priests to rape and sexually abuse tens of thousands of children.
The devastating report published by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of a Child said the Vatican must "immediately remove" all known or suspected child abusers within the clergy.
It said the Holy See had "systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims."
In response, the Vatican said in a statement published on its website that some points made in the report were an "attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching."
The Vatican said it would examine the report thoroughly and reiterated its commitment to defending and protecting child rights in accordance with the U.N. guidelines and "the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine."
The U.N.'s conclusions come after an unprecedented hearing in Geneva on Jan. 16 in which Vatican representatives were questioned by the U.N. committee.
Its recommendations are non-binding and the U.N. has given the Vatican until 2017 to report back. It criticized the institution for submitting its last report 14 years late.
"Well-known child sexual abusers have been transferred from parish to parish or to other countries in an attempt to cover-up such crimes," the report said.
It later added: "Due to a code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication, cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where such crimes occurred."
The U.N. report also denounced the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.