Vatican panel on sexual abuse meets, plans to tackle church coverups
Members of a commission on sexual abuse created by Pope Francis said Saturday that they intended to design “clear and effective protocols” to protect children from abusive priests.
The group, which includes experts on the issue and victims of abuse, also will tackle bishops’ coverups of predator priests and examine policies set by bishops’ groups, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston said after the eight-member commission ended several days of meetings at the Vatican.
“Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with situations where superiors of the church have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children,” O’Malley said. “There are, theoretically I guess, canons that could apply here, but obviously they have not been sufficient.”
O’Malley said some senior church members remain “in denial” about abuse and coverups. Anti-abuse groups have alleged that bishops continue to shift abusive priests to new dioceses to shield them from prosecution.
Pope Francis announced the formation of the commission in December and named its members in March. The group’s first sessions were held Thursday through Saturday.
The group said in its statement it would propose initiatives to Francis aimed at highlighting “the devastating consequences of not listening, not reporting suspicion of abuse, and failing to support victims/survivors and their families.”
O’Malley said the commission would not deal with individual cases of abuse, but suggested it could intervene if bishops’ conferences drew up unsatisfactory codes of conduct. Bishops’ conferences around the world have recently been releasing their rules. Italian bishops have asserted they had no legal obligation to report accusations to the police.
“These are the kinds of issues we will assess,” said Cardinal O’Malley, when asked about the Italian bishops. “Obviously, accountability should not be dependent upon legal obligations when there is a moral obligation.”
O’Malley’s predecessor in Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, resigned in 2002 amid suggestions that he covered up for abusive priests.
“Accountability is for everyone in the church, irrespective of what their status is,” O’Malley said.
“Many people don’t see this is as a problem of the universal church,” he said. “In some people’s minds it’s an American problem, an Irish problem, a German problem.”
Pope Francis was accused in March of playing down the extent of cover-ups after he said the church he leads “is possibly the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility.”
Marie Collins, an Irish member of the commission who was abused by a priest when she was 13, said she had “difficulty” with the pope’s view, but said, “I think we are moving forward.”
Kington is a special correspondent.
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