By Lizzy Davies, Thursday, 5 December 2013, theguardian.com.
Pope Francis has given the go-ahead to a commission of experts that will advise him on new measures to try to fight clerical sex abuse in the Roman Catholic church and boost the provision of pastoral care for victims.
In his first major move on the scandal that clouded his predecessor’s time in office, the pope told his council of cardinalson Thursday that he was approving their proposal for a new panel devoted to the issue, said the archbishop of Boston, cardinal Seán O’Malley.
“Up until now there’s been so much focus on the judicial parts of this but the pastoral response of the church is very important and the holy father is concerned about that,” O’Malley told journalists .
“And so we feel as though having the advantage of a commission of experts that will be able to study some of these issues and bring concrete recommendations for the holy father and for the Holy See will be very important.
“The commission was a suggestion of the council of cardinals, the “papal G8” which itself was established by Francis earlier this year to bring together eight international prelates to advise him on church governance around the world and reform of the Vatican’s central bureaucracy, the Curia.
O’Malley – the American cardinal in the group, which has been holding its second three-day meeting this week – said the panel would examine child-protection programmes already in place as well as suggesting new initiatives.
Subjects likely to be explored included the training of clergy and anyone involved with the church working with children, he said, as well as the screening of priests and codes of professional conduct.
The experts might also look at the church’s co-operation with the civil authorities in countries concerned in terms of the reporting of alleged crimes, and pastoral support for victims, their families and communities affected by the abuse of minors, he said.
Those experts have not yet been appointed, but are expected to be a mixture of men and women from both the church and secular sphere.
However, O’Malley was not able to say whether the commission would also examine the issue of bishops’ accountability in clergy abuse cases, which has been – and still is – a focal point of criticism.
Organisations representing abuse victims have said the church has not done enough to sanction bishops who are found to have somehow protected or failed to report to police abusive priests in their diocese.
“That’s something the church needs to address,” said O’Malley, asked about the commission’s remit.
He said he did not know whether the question would fall to the new panel, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the Vatican department that co-ordinates church trials for clergy accused of child abuse – or the congregation for bishops, another section of the Curia.
The announcement of the new commission comes a day after the Vatican was criticised in some quarters for refusing to provide the United Nations’ committee on the rights of the child with all the information it had requested on clerical sex abuse cases and their subsequent investigation.
In its response to the committee, which is due to question a Vatican delegation in a public hearing in January as part of routine progress monitoring, the Holy See said it was not its “practice … to disclose information” on specific cases unless requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.
In the 24-page document, the Holy See said it had been “deeply saddened by the scourge of sexual abuse” and regretted the involvement of some members of the Catholic clergy.
It added that it had “amended norms” regarding the suitability of candidates for the priesthood, and had taken other steps including the revision of some canon law rules “to ensure that clerics and religious are properly disciplined”.
It also emphasised its limited scope of jurisdiction, and the fact that, under church guidelines, the “primary obligations” of ensuring child protection and providing an “appropriate response” to clergy sex abuse lay with diocesan bishops in the area concerned.
O’Malley said the decision to form the commission had come independently from the UN response.
He said there was no doubt the chief responsibility for action lay with local bishops, but added: “Certainly we hope that the Holy See will be able to model what those best practices are as a way of helping other dioceses and bishops to have a response that is truly adequate and pastoral to this problem.
“Snap, the main US victims’ group, dismissed the initiative and said the only thing that would protect children was if the church punished negligent bishops and ordered them to name molesters.