December 5, 2013

Pope forms commission to advise on sex abuse

The commission was announced after a meeting between Francis and his eight cardinal advisers who are helping him reform the Vatican bureaucracy.

By Nicole Winfield
The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Tuesday responded to complaints that he has largely ignored the clerical sex abuse scandal, agreeing to assemble a panel of experts to advise the Holy See on protecting children from pedophiles and helping abuse victims heal.

click image to enlarge

Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Wednesday.

The Associated Press

It remains to be seen if the experts will take up one of the core issues behind the problem — making bishops who shelter abusive priests accountable — and victims groups immediately questioned whether another church study group would really make progress on an issue that has vexed the Vatican for decades.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, announced the creation of the commission Thursday at the conclusion of a meeting between Francis and his eight cardinal advisers who are helping him govern the church and reform the Vatican bureaucracy.

Boston was the epicenter of the 2002 clerical sexual abuse scandal in the U.S.

O'Malley told reporters that the commission, made up of international lay and religious experts on sex abuse, would study current programs to protect children, better screen priests, train church personnel and suggest new initiatives for both the Holy See to implement inside the Vatican City State and for bishops to implement around the world.

The initiative came as a surprise, and seemed hastily put together as if Francis wanted to signal a get-tough approach amid recent questions about his commitment to fighting abuse.

Francis' rather tepid comments to Dutch bishops last week about the need to help victims heal, plus his failure to meet with sex abuse victims while showing tremendous compassion to the sick and disabled every week, had fueled criticism from victims' groups and advocates. O'Malley announced broad areas of study that the Vatican has already signaled were priorities for bishops to focus on, but provided no details about who would be on the commission, or what its size, structure or scope would be.

In announcing the commission — the fourth of Francis' papacy — O'Malley noted that the Vatican's involvement in the sex abuse crisis has been largely judicial in nature, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2001 taking over church trials for priests accused of raping and molesting children.

Now, he said, Francis wants input for a pastoral response, as well.

He said he didn't know if the matter of bishop accountability would be undertaken by the new commission.

Advocates for victims of clerical abuse have long denounced the Vatican's refusal to sanction bishops who shielded abusive priests and moved them from parish to parish rather than report them to police.

That practice, coupled with the church's culture of secrecy and fear of scandal, enabled pedophiles to continue molesting children for decades while the Vatican turned a blind eye.

"Quite frankly that's something that the church needs to address," O'Malley said, when asked if the commission would take up the issue. "I'm not sure whether it will be this commission or the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) or the Congregation for Bishops."

BishopAccountability.org, an online resource for the clergy sex abuse, cautiously welcomed the initiative but said the commission's scope as presented by O'Malley had two "crucial omissions."

"There is no indication that the commission will study either the Vatican's culpability or the crucial need to discipline bishops, religious superiors and other church supervisors who enable child rape and molestation," said Ann Barret Doyle, the site's co-director.

(Continued on page 2)

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