In recent years, the Holy See has been accused of violating its human rights obligations because of acts of sex abuse by the Catholic clergy. Such accusations are based, in various ways, on the authority of the Holy See over the clergy. The Holy See is often referred to as a state and its obligations as state obligations. UN treaty bodies understand that the human rights obligations of the Holy See, as a treaty party, are of a legal––not moral––nature and apply extraterritorially, i.e., beyond the territory of the Vatican City State. The notion of state jurisdiction is, therefore, applied to the Holy See in the same way as to any other state. UN treaty bodies implicitly conclude that, for the purpose of human rights responsibility, the crimes of the clergy must be attributed to the Holy See and that anyone under the religious authority of the Holy See is under its state jurisdiction. However, a closer examination of the nature of the Holy See and its authority under international law, church doctrine, and church law paints a more complex and nuanced picture, where it is hard to describe the clergy as state organs or religious authority as state jurisdiction. Still, there are reasons to understand that certain acts and omissions of the Holy See in the context of the sex abuse crisis can be characterized as violations of its positive obligations of conduct.
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