(Spokesman Steven O’Riordan (C) speaks as he sits with, Marina Gambold (L-R), Mary Smyth, Maureen Sullivan and Diane Croghan, at a “Magdalene Survivors Together” news conference in Dublin February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)

Advocacy groups for women forced to work at the Catholic Church’s notorious Magdalene laundries in Ireland backed calls from the United Nations for religious orders to pay compensation and face prosecution for decades of abuse.

In an unprecedented report on Wednesday, the U.N. demanded that the Vatican “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers. It also urged the Holy See to conduct an investigation into the laundries.

Women, many unmarried mothers, sent to the laundries were made wash items for business, hospitals and state bodies in slave-like conditions, and were often subject to cruel and degrading treatment as well as physical and sexual abuse, the report by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said.

“The state has allowed the perpetrators of these crimes to get away without taking responsibility,” said Steven O’ Riordan, director of Magdalene Survivors Together. “The religious orders are still not being held accountable, they have never apologized directly for their part in running the laundries.”