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Four women on pope's new anti-child sex abuse panel

'Francis must prosecute pedophile priests' say survivors

24 March, 19:12
Four women on pope's new anti-child sex abuse panel (By Stefania Fumo) (ANSA) - Rome, March 24 - Pope Francis has appointed a former child sex abuse victim as one of the first members of a new Vatican antiabuse commission, a move intended to demonstrate resolve about confronting the child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked Catholicism.

The pope tapped three clergy and five lay people from eight countries, with seven from Europe or the United States, including four women. The announcement came Saturday as Francis faces mounting criticism for a perceived blind spot on the abuse scandals, which have cost Catholic dioceses and religious orders around the world billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements. Among his appointees are Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, one of Francis' key advisers and the archbishop of Boston, where the US pedophile priest scandal erupted in 2002, and Marie Collins, who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland and has gone on to become a prominent campaigner for accountability in the church.

When she tried to report the abuse years later, said Collins, she was told by Church officials that "protecting the good name" of the priest was more important than remedying a "historic" wrong.

Speaking at a 2012 seminar for bishops on best practices to protect children, Collins recounted the hospitalizations, anxiety and depression she suffered after Irish church authorities first disbelieved, then blamed her for the assault.

"I was treated as someone with an agenda against the church, the police investigation was obstructed and the laity misled. I was distraught," she said.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the main US victims' group that has now become international, praised her inclusion but said the pope needs to start ousting bishops who are complicit in abuse, not appoint another study panel.

Francis "has had more than a year to defrock, demote, discipline or denounce even one of them," said SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris. "But, just like his predecessors, he refuses to take this simple but crucial step toward justice, healing and prevention". SNAP cited a March 14 article in a local Pennsylvania paper, the Pocono Record, as saying that according to a database released earlier this month by BishopAccountability.org, an organization that aims to keep a record of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, a Roman Catholic priest who was accused of molesting boys in the Pennsylvania towns Shohola and Moscow has been promoted to the No. 2 position in his diocese in Paraguay.

The database lists Catholic clergy from Argentina involved in sex abuse cases. "Former Bishop Joseph Martino of the Diocese of Scranton allowed the Reverend Carlos Urrutigoity to transfer to a parish in...Paraguay after multiple witness statements in several court cases claimed that Urrutigoity routinely slept in bed with and had sex with boys in his care, calling it spiritual guidance," the Pocono Record wrote.

The Vatican in December announced that Francis would create the commission to advise the Church on how to protect children, train church personnel and keep abusers out of the clergy. Whether the commission will deal with the issue of disciplining bishops who cover up for abusers is still unknown.

In a statement, the Vatican said the commission would look into both "civil and canonical duties and responsibilities" for Church personnel. While canon law does provide sanctions if a bishop is found negligent, such punishments have rarely, if ever, been imposed in the case of bishops who failed to report paedophile priests to police.

The other members announced Saturday are: French child psychologist Catherine Bonnet, who has written widely on the effects of sexual abuse and exploitation on children; Baroness Sheila Hollins, former Royal College of Psychiatrists president and current president of the British Medical Association, a frequent consultant on child development issues in the UK; Professor Claudio Papale, an Italian lay expert on Catholic law at Rome's Pontifical Urbaniana University; former Polish prime minister and ex Polish ambassador to the Vatican, Hanna Suchocka; Argentine Jesuit priest Humberto Miguel Yaez, who was received by Francis into the Jesuit order in 1975 and who studied under him at an Argentine Jesuit college; and German Jesuit priest Hans Zollner, who is the vice rector of Rome's Gregorian University and head of its Institute of Psychology. He coordinated the 2012 antiabuse conference for bishops.

While plans originally called for the anti-abuse body to be housed within the Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Saturday's announcement suggests it will have a more independent profile reporting directly to the pope.

A long series of paedophilia scandals emerged under Benedict's eight-year papacy, although in many cases the abuse dates back decades and was hidden by the clergy.

In cases in countries including the United States, Ireland, Australia, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Germany, Belgium and Italy, the Church was found to have discouraged victims from reporting abuse to the police.

There were also a number of documented cases of Church authorities moving paedophile priests away from one post to another, where they repeated their crimes with fresh victims.

Benedict's initial response to the scandals was depicted by many as being defensive.

The former pope also personally came under fire for allegedly failing to respond properly to several abuse cases when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church's doctrinal watchdog.

But he became increasingly open about sex abuse, apologised for it and in 2010 he issued new Church instructions on dealing with paedophile priests, making it mandatory for cases to be reported to the police.

Benedict also prayed with abuse victims on many of his trips overseas, including to Malta and Britain.

Nevertheless, the US Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), was unimpressed by Francis's vow to continue the path set by his predecessor.

"Once again, as has happened hundreds of times already, a top Catholic official says he's asking another top Catholic official to take action about pedophile priests and complicit bishops," SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris said in a statement.

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