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"The culture at the time would allow this to happen," he said.

"The Vatican has long minimized these offenses and the resulting harm," said Pam Spees, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which provided documentation to the U. committee detailing the scope of the clerical abuse problem.

"But the committee's recognition (of abuse as a form of torture) could help open additional channels for victims to seek justice and reparations, including, potentially, relief from restrictive statutes of limitations and civil remedies, all of which contributes to preventing more harm." Tomasi acknowledged that there were problems in the past, including when priests were transferred from diocese to diocese after psychiatrists gave them a clean bill of health, thinking that a pedophile could be cured with therapy.

Starting in that same year, the Vatican began resorting more and more to the lesser penalty of sentencing accused priests to a lifetime of penance and prayer rather than defrocking them. bishops' lay review board that monitored clerical abuse, said the statistics clearly showed a positive evolution in how the church dealt with the abuse problem.

The Vatican often metes out such sentences for elderly or infirm priests, since defrocking them would essentially render them destitute in their final years. "Given where the church came from - with the pendulum swung squarely to the side of the accused priest whose explanations were almost always believed - this is a move away from that and more toward giving credibility to victims, which is progress," he said.

The boy told investigators he was assaulted by one player while three others held him down.

Investigators said a fifth player recorded the assault on a cellphone, and another blocked a door, according to the affidavit.

Tomasi insisted that the Holy See was only obliged to abide by the torture treaty inside the tiny Vatican City State, which has a population of only a few hundred people.

Only in 2010 did the Vatican explicitly tell bishops and superiors to also report credible cases to police where local reporting laws require them to.

Gaer said afterward that she considered Tomasi's response to be a clear admission by the Holy See that sexual violence can be a form of torture.

Victims' advocates and legal groups have said the Catholic Church could be exposed to a new round of litigation if courts agree that abuse can constitute torture.

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