Commission to work with Pope Francis on sex abuse policy
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis named the initial members of a commission to advise him on sex abuse policy Saturday.
Half of the members are women, and one was assaulted by a priest as a child.
The eight members were announced after the pope came under fire from victims' groups for a perceived lack of attention to the abuse scandal, which has damaged the Roman Catholic Church's reputation around the world and cost dioceses and religious orders billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.
In a statement, the Vatican hinted that the commission might deal with the issue of disciplining bishops who cover up for abusers.
The statement said the commission would look in to both "civil and canonical duties and responsibilities" for church personnel.
Canon law provides for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but such punishments have never been imposed on a bishop for failing to report a pedophile priest to police.
The eight inaugural members include 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.
The commission also includes Cardinal Sean O'Malley, one of Francis' key advisers and the archbishop of Boston, where the U.S. scandal erupted in 2002.
Two other members are professors at Rome's Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University, which in 2012 hosted a seminar for bishops to educate them on best practices to protect children.
During that conference, Collins told the bishops of her own ordeal, of the hospitalizations, anxiety and depression she endured after Irish church authorities didn't believe her when she reported her attacker. They 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," Collins said.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the institution of the commission was evidence that Francis believed "the church must hold the protection of minors among her highest priorities."
In a March 5 interview with Corriere della Sera, Francis said that the church had been unfairly attacked.
"The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility," Francis said. "No one has done more. And yet the church is the only one that has been attacked."
Collins' appointment to the panel was hailed by Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who has clashed both with the Vatican and his fellow bishops in demanding greater accountability and honesty about abuse.
The initial group named Saturday will define the scope, statutes and priorities of the commission and propose other members to better reflect the church's geographic diversity.
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