Geneva - Victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests said on Tuesday they hoped UN scrutiny of the Vatican would help finally to hold perpetrators to account and halt future violations.
"This is an important moment for those of us who were raped, sodomised and sexually violated as children by priests," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap), a global coalition based in the United States.
"Over the years, we've struggled to understand why Church officials continue to support and cover up for sexual predators," Blaine told reporters, two days before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was to examine the Vatican's record.
"We're hoping that finally the truth will be exposed and, more importantly, the Church officials will change what they are doing and that Pope Francis will take action that will actually protect children," she added.
Signatories of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child agree to be scrutinised by a watchdog panel.
Thursday marks the Vatican's second examination. Its debut was in 1995, before the abuse of minors by Catholic priests burst into the spotlight.
For more than a decade, the Church has been rocked by a cascade of scandals from Ireland to the United States and from Australia to Germany.
The Vatican says it continues to receive around 600 claims against abusive priests every year, many dating back to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Victims' groups, however, say the issue is far from settled and that the tally could well be in the hundreds of thousands.
Abuse has often been coupled with cover-ups by priests' superiors, typically transfers to other parishes, rather than turning them over to police.
A 1986 internal Church report on abuse had little or no impact, said Spanish Snap member Miguel Hurtado.
"When that report was written, I was four years old. When I was abused, I was 16. They had 12 years to try to sort out the problem. They had 12 years to try to implement measures. They had 12 years in which they did absolutely nothing," he said.
Benedict XVI, pontiff from 2005 to 2013, was the first pope to apologise to victims and called for zero tolerance of abuse.
Campaigners claim that rhetoric took the place of concrete results.
Hurtado cited the case of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, who remains in office despite being convicted in 2012 by a US court for shielding an abuser.
He contrasted the Church's handling of those who question doctrine.
"If he had advocated ordination for women, if he had advocated contraception, he wouldn't have lasted a day. But he 'only' failed to report child abuse to the authorities," Hurtado said.
Elected last March, Pope Francis has been applauded for his fresh approach to a range of issues. He has issued several pronouncements urging action against child abusers.
But campaigners remain sceptical.
"I haven't seen any actions at all that give positive signs," said Snap's UN representative Mary Caplan. "What we want to see is accountability."