Pope Francis to establish child protection commission in Vatican

Advisory panel emerges from Council of Cardinals meeting in Rome

Vatican insiders said  the move  indicates the level of commitment that Pope Francis wants to bring to the sex abuse issue. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Vatican insiders said the move indicates the level of commitment that Pope Francis wants to bring to the sex abuse issue. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 01:00

In a surprise move, the Holy See yesterday announced that Pope Francis is to assemble a panel of experts to advise him on the problem of clerical sex abuse. This Vatican Child Protection Commission represents arguably the first concrete proposal to emerge from the so-called “G8” Council of Cardinals who have been meeting with the pope in Rome this week.

Originally appointed in April by Pope Francis to help him both govern and reform the Catholic Church, the G8 council is only now getting down to serious work.

Vatican insiders last night suggested that such a decision, at this early stage in the process of Curia reform, indicates the level of commitment that Pope Francis wants to bring to the sex abuse issue.

As far as the composition of the commission’s panel of experts goes, it seems likely that the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, will be nominated, given his extensive track record in dealing with the problem in the Dublin archdiocese. Another obvious panel member may well be the Maltese bishop Charles Scicluna, the former Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


Occasionally criticised
Thus far in his seemingly revolutionary pontificate, Francis has been occasionally criticised for not paying much attention to the issue of clerical sex abuse. To some extent, the pope has this week defied those critics since this was the second time in four days that he has dealt with the problem.

In a message to the Dutch bishops in Rome for an ad limina visit on Monday, the pope had said that he wished to express his “compassion” and “closeness in prayer to every victim of sexual abuse”.

Presenting the new commission yesterday, Boston cardinal Sean O’Malley, one of the G8 cardinals, said that the commission’s purpose would be to advise the pope “on the Holy See’s commitment to the protection of children and in pastoral care for victims of abuse”.

Admitting that competence for the handling of clerical sex abuse still lies largely in the hands of the local church, Cardinal O’Malley also said that the Holy See’s objective will be to “identify best practices”.

Further information on the new commission, including both its membership and working brief, will be made available in a forthcoming papal document. It would seem that the cardinals decided yesterday that this was a good idea that had to be implemented immediately, with precise working details to follow later.


Thorny question
While it is clear that the commission will urge measures both to protect children from paedophiles and also to better screen men for the priesthood, it remains unclear what position the commission will adopt on the thorny question of bishop accountability or what measures to adopt with bishops who knowingly shelter abusive priests.

Asked about bishop accountability yesterday, Cardinal O’Malley said he did not yet know if this would be a problem addressed by the commission.