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Published: Friday February 7, 2014 MYT 10:35:02 PM
Updated: Friday February 7, 2014 MYT 10:36:01 PM

Vatican seeks to defuse row with U.N. over child abuse report

An archbishop adjusts his mitre ahead of the conferral of the sacred pallium by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican June 29, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

An archbishop adjusts his mitre ahead of the conferral of the sacred pallium by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican June 29, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

ROME (Reuters) - The Vatican sought to defuse tensions with the United Nations on Friday after a damning report which accused the church of covering up child sex abuse by priests.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi adopted a markedly softer tone to Wednesday's sharp criticism of a report by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The paper accused the Church of valuing its reputation above the protection of children and demanded the Vatican turn over suspected offenders to civil justice.

The Vatican had originally planned a muted response, according to a person familiar with the matter, but attacked the report's demands that the church scale back its opposition to abortion, artificial contraception and homosexuality.

The exchange appeared to leave the church and the United Nations heading for their biggest clash in decades but Lombardi said there was no rift with the world body.

"It is not the case that there has been a confrontation between the UN and the Vatican," he said in a statement. "The Holy See has always given a strong moral support to the United Nations."

Lombardi nevertheless repeated the Vatican's initial criticism of the report, saying it was unfair and biased.

He said that the inclusion of comments on abortion, contraception and homosexuality went beyond the committee's remit and amounted to an attempt to interfere in Church teaching and religious freedom, and accused the committee of pre-writing the report before the Vatican had addressed it.

The last major clash between the two institutions was in 1994, when the Vatican forced the United Nations to back down on a proposal to approve abortion as a means of birth control at a population conference in Cairo.

Outrage over the abuse of children by clerics has dogged the Church for more than a decade, with lawsuits bankrupting several dioceses, and a series of pontiffs have struggled to put the issue behind them.

Since his 2013 election Pope Francis has called sexual abuse "the shame of the Church" and vowed to continue measures to address it begun by his predecessor Benedict XVI.

Francis announced he would form a committee to advise him on the issue in December, but has yet to appoint its members, and the report increased pressure on the pontiff to act.

(Reporting By Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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