Pope Francis to create new advisory commission on sex abuse

Pope Francis to create new advisory commission on sex abuse

Pope Francis, who to date has said little about clerical sex abuse, today took what could turn out to be a major step in responding to the problem: He has decided to establish a Vatican-level commission for the protection of minors.

According to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who announced the move to reporters at the Vatican, the commission’s role will be to advise the pope on child-protection measures and pastoral care for victims of abuse.

More specifically, the cardinal said, the commission of international experts will formulate new initiatives for child-protection, in collaboration with bishops, bishops’ conferences and heads of religious orders.

The commission will be made up of lay experts as well as priests and religious, and its work will touch on a number of areas, including relations with victims, priestly formation programs, psychological testing, and cooperation by church officials with civil authorities on the reporting of abuse allegations. The idea is for the Vatican to identify "best practices" and model those practices for the universal church.

The cardinal said members of the commission would be announced shortly, and that a document from Pope Francis would explain the commission’s role. He noted that the pope was acting on a suggestion put to him by the 8-member advisory council of cardinals that is studying Roman Curia reform, of which Cardinal O’Malley is a member.

The commission appears to be another sign that the Vatican wants more coordination and uniformity in the church’s response to sex abuse. Two years ago, the Vatican asked all dioceses to draw up guidelines for handling allegations of child sex abuse by priests, and those guidelines are now being reviewed at the Vatican.

It was not yet clear whether the commission would tackle the issue of bishops’ accountability, which many people see as the weakest part of the Vatican response to the sex abuse scandal. Cardinal O’Malley said that while “that’s something the church needs to address,” he wasn’t sure if that task would fall to the new commission or to Vatican congregations that deal with doctrine and bishops.

Vatican Radio's audio of Cardinal O'Malley is here.

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