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Pope Francis establishes child-sex-abuse commission

'Protection of minors key' says O'Malley

05 December, 16:14
Pope Francis establishes child-sex-abuse commission (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Vatican City, December 5 - The Vatican on Thursday announced that Pope Francis is setting up a special commission to advise him on how the Catholic Church should protect children and help victims of sexual abuse by the clergy, in response to a worldwide scandal involving untold victims that has put the Church on the defensive for more than a decade. "The Holy Father has decided to establish a specific Commission for the protection of minors, with the aim of advising Pope Francis on the Holy See's commitment to the protection of children and in pastoral care for victims of abuse," said Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley. O'Malley, known as a crisis fixer in diocese plagued by sex-abuse scandals, is one of eight cardinals who have been advising the pontiff and who suggested he set up the commission, the details of which will be described in depth in a forthcoming papal announcement. The cardinal outlined a three-pronged plan for the commission. First, it will "study present programmes in place for the protection of children". Second, it will "formulate suggestions for new initiatives on the part of the Curia (the Vatican bureaucracy), in collaboration with bishops, Episcopal conferences, religious superiors and conferences of religious superiors". Third, it will "indicate the names of persons suited to the systematic implementation of these new initiatives, including laypersons, religious and priests with responsibilities for the safety of children, in relations with the victims, in mental health, in the application of the law, etc.".

According to O'Malley, new initiatives will also likely include criminal background checks and psychiatric evaluations for those who work with children and minors, and protocols for collaborating with civil authorities and for reporting offenses.

The commission will also outline how Church officials should meet with victims, as well as how to facilitate the "recovery of clerics guilty of abuse," he said. Upon being named pope in March, Francis said that dealing with sex abuse in the Church was crucial to its credibility.

The choice to give the commission announcement to O'Malley, whose renown made him a plausible candidate for pope earlier this year, was poignant. In 2003 O'Malley was called in to succeeded Cardinal Bernard Law as Boston archbishop. In 2002 Law was reassigned as archpriest of Rome when evidence suggested he had covered up abuse by priests in his care. According to allegations his departure from Boston was to evade arrest. Shortly after, he was made archpriest of Rome's Saint Mary Major Basilica, a high-ranking honor that triggered accusations of the Vatican "kicking upstairs" someone it should have turned over to authorities in Boston. The diocese there settled a case for $85 million with 552 alleged abuse victims the year Law left. In 2005 he voted in the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI, angering critics. Since then numerous dioceses in the US, including Milwaukee, Portland and San Diego, have gone bankrupt after paying billions in settlements to victims. In more recent years, the clergy abuse scandal has spread to virtually every country in Europe. As recently as Monday, Francis called on Dutch bishops visiting the Vatican to "continue to look after" victims of sex abuse "in their painful path of healing, undertaken with courage".

The priest sex-abuse scandal hit the Netherlands hard in 2012, when reports surfaced that Dutch Church officials in the 1950s took retribution against 10 children who reported sex abuse by having them castrated.

The international fallout translated to countless Catholics defecting from the Church at a time when numbers in the pews had already been dwindling fast, especially in the developed world. The announcement of the sex-abuse commission comes days after the Vatican rebuffed a request from the United Nations to provide information on alleged child sex abuse by priests, nuns or monks, arguing the cases fell under the auspices of the judicial authorities in countries where abuse happened.