Pope Francis on Tuesday responded to complaints that he has largely ignored the clerical sex-abuse scandal, agreeing to assemble a panel of experts to advise the Holy See on protecting children from pedophiles and helping abuse victims heal.
It remains to be seen if the experts will take up one of the core issues behind the problem — making bishops who shelter abusive priests accountable — and victims groups immediately questioned whether another church study group would really make progress on an issue that has vexed the Vatican for decades.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, announced the creation of the commission Thursday at the conclusion of a meeting between Francis and his eight cardinal advisers who are helping him govern the church and reform the Vatican bureaucracy.
Boston was the epicenter of the 2002 clerical sexual- abuse scandal in the U.S.
O’Malley told reporters that the commission, made up of international lay and religious experts on sex abuse, would study current programs to protect children, better screen priests, train church personnel and suggest new initiatives for both the Holy See to implement inside the Vatican City State and for bishops to implement around the world.
The initiative came as a surprise and seemed hastily put together as if Francis wanted to signal a get-tough approach amid recent questions about his commitment to fighting abuse.
Francis’ rather tepid comments to Dutch bishops last week about the need to help victims heal, plus his failure to meet with sex-abuse victims while showing tremendous compassion to the sick and disabled every week, had fueled criticism from victims’ groups and advocates.