Vatican City - The Vatican has told a UN investigating committee that it cannot be held legally competent over the abuses of children carried out by Catholic churchmen because they are subject to national laws, a spokesperson said on Wednesday.
"When individual institutions of national churches are implicated, that does not regard the competence of the Holy See but rather the laws of the countries concerned," Father Federico Lombardi said.
Lombardi said Vatican officials would explain their position at a meeting in Geneva on 16 January with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is checking whether the Catholic Church is honouring the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"The competence of the Holy See is at the level of the Holy See," Lombardi said, explaining that the Vatican was among the first states to sign up to the convention.
Campaign groups for abuse victims have criticised the Vatican in the past for making the legalistic distinction between the central administration of the Church and the actions of individual clergymen.
The Vatican has already refused to respond to a questionnaire on its own investigations into the abuse cases, which was sent out by the UN committee in July of this year ahead of the meeting in January.
The Vatican has said Canon Law prosecutors are investigating thousands of alleged cases of abuse but it is unclear how many have been confirmed and what action has been taken against those found guilty.
Abuses and cover-ups began coming to light a decade ago in the United States and there has been a wave of revelations since then - although victims have mainly been coming forward in Western countries.