ROME -- In their toughest and most public questioning to date about sexual abuse of children by the clergy, senior Vatican officials came under heavy criticism Thursday from a United Nations committee over their handling of such cases and promised that changes were underway.

"The Holy See gets it," Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's former sex crimes prosecutor, told the Committee on the Rights of the Child at a meeting in Geneva.

But Scicluna and a colleague maintained the Vatican’s position that, while it is responsible for responding to abuses committed within the confines of the Vatican state, it is up to local law enforcers to punish abusive priests around the world.

"Priests are not functionaries of the Vatican," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's envoy to the U.N. in Geneva. "Priests are citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country."

That contention does not satisfy the Vatican's critics, who accuse senior officials in the Roman Catholic Church of actively trying to cover up cases of abuse.

“It seems disingenuous to claim that states are responsible for these crimes, when church officials have been obstructing justice,” Barbara Blaine, head of the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told reporters........

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