In a series of questions asked in the runup to a public hearing scheduled for January, the UN committee on the rights of the child had requested the Holy See provide details of abuse cases and specific information concerning their subsequent investigation and handling.

But, in its response, the Holy See said that although it had answered the questions in a general way, it was not its practice to disclose information on specific cases unless requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.

In the 24-page document, the Holy See said it had been "deeply saddened by the scourge of sexual abuse" and regretted the involvement of some members of the Catholic clergy.

It added that it had "amended norms" regarding the suitability of candidates for the priesthood, and had taken other steps including the revision of some canon law rules "to ensure that clerics and religious are properly disciplined".

But it did not give all the details requested by the committee in a lengthy, multi-part question on the "sexual violence against children committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns in numerous countries around the world".