Pope Francis to set up commission on child sexual abuse by priests

ROME -- Pope Francis is forming a commission of experts to advise the Holy See on protecting children from abusive priests, keeping pedophiles out of the priesthood and caring for the victims of abuse, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley said Thursday.

The initiative is Francis’ first concrete step in response to the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church in recent years, costing millions in legal fees and sparking a steep decline in church attendance. 

It remains unclear, however, whether the commission will address complaints by victims groups that the Vatican has failed to make bishops accountable for covering up for abusive priests. 

Although Francis has won plaudits for reinvigorating the Catholic church, he has been criticized for not coupling his strong appeals for mercy and charity with equally firm admonishments of abuse. 

“Pope Francis has massive power and many options. But he’s choosing to not use that power to protect children,” said David Clohessy, director of the U.S. advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.  “And he’s choosing perhaps the least effective option to address a roiling crisis: another internal, quiet, cleric-dominated committee.”

In April, Francis said the Vatican needed to act decisively on abuse cases, adding that the church’s "credibility" was on the line.

RELATED: Abuse cases threatened Cardinal Mahony's agenda

But the Vatican came in for criticism this week after it submitted what were deemed vague responses to a United Nations committee that was assessing its adherence to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In its response, the Vatican said it had changed the requirements for admitting candidates to the priesthood, updated canon law and asked bishops' conferences to draw up guidelines to combat abuse. But it said local bishops were responsible for ensuring that children are protected.

O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, announced the formation of the new commission after Francis met with eight cardinals selected by the pope to help him reform the Vatican bureaucracy.

O’Malley, the lone American among the eight, said that the panel would include both religious and lay experts and create “new initiatives” in the battle against abuse by the clergy.

He told reporters that the Vatican’s involvement in the crisis had to date been mostly judicial and that Francis was pushing to add a pastoral element to the response.

Clohessy urged Francis to punish bishops found to have been covering up for abusive priests.

“This simple step would immediately make kids safer. But instead, parents and parishioners are being offered yet another toothless church panel,” he said in a statement. “It’s like offering a Band-Aid to an advanced cancer patient.”


American teacher is shot and killed in Libya

Yemen attack bears hallmarks of Al Qaeda; at least 52 dead

Karzai accuses U.S. of civilian deaths in November drone strike

Kington is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World