The Vatican has lashed out at criticism over its handling of its paedophilia crisis by saying the Catholic church was "busy cleaning its own house" and that the problems with clerical sex abuse in other churches were as big, if not bigger.
In a defiant and provocative statement, issued following a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, the Holy See said the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not paedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males.
The statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that "available research" showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.
He also quoted statistics from the Christian Scientist Monitor newspaper to show that most US churches being hit by child sex abuse allegations were Protestant and that sexual abuse within Jewish communities was common.
He added that sexual abuse was far more likely to be committed by family members, babysitters, friends, relatives or neighbours, and male children were quite often guilty of sexual molestation of other children.
The statement said that rather than paedophilia, it would "be more correct" to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.
"Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17."
The statement concluded: "As the Catholic church has been busy cleaning its own house, it would be good if other institutions and authorities, where the major part of abuses are reported, could do the same and inform the media about it."
The Holy See launched its counter–attack after an international representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Keith Porteous Wood, accused it of covering up child abuse and being in breach of several articles under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Porteous Wood said the Holy See had not contradicted any of his accusations. "The many thousands of victims of abuse deserve the international community to hold the Vatican to account, something it has been unwilling to do, so far. Both states and children's organisations must unite to pressurise the Vatican to open its files, change its procedures worldwide, and report suspected abusers to civil authorities."
Representatives from other religions were dismayed by the Holy See's attempts to distance itself from controversy by pointing the finger at other faiths.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, said: "Comparative tragedy is a dangerous path on which to travel. All of us need to look within our own communities. Child abuse is sinful and shameful and we must expel them immediately from our midst."
A spokesman for the US Episcopal Church said measures for the prevention of sexual misconduct and the safeguarding of children had been in place for years.
Of all the world religions, Roman Catholicism has been hardest hit by sex abuse scandals. In the US, churches have paid more than $2bn (£1.25bn) in compensation to victim s. In Ireland, reports into clerical sexual abuse have rocked both the Catholic hierarchy and the state.
The Ryan Report, published last May, revealed that beatings and humiliation by nuns and priests were common at institutions that held up to 30,000 children. A nine-year investigation found that Catholic priests and nuns for decades terrorised thousands of boys and girls, while government inspectors failed to stop the abuse.