Pope names eight sex abuse panel members; half women, one victim

Half of eight-member panel are women; one was assaulted by a priest as a child

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 5:37am

Pope Francis has named the initial members of a commission to advise him on sex abuse policy, signalling an openness to reach beyond church officials to plot the commission's course and priorities. Half of the members are women, and one was assaulted by a priest as a child.

The eight members were announced after Francis came under fire from victims' groups for a perceived lack of attention to the abuse scandal, which has seriously damaged the Catholic Church's reputation around the world and cost dioceses and religious orders billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.

The Vatican in December announced that Francis would create the commission to advise the church on best policies to protect children, train church personnel and keep abusers out of the clergy. No details had been released until Saturday and it remains unknown if the commission will deal with the critical issue of disciplining bishops who cover up for abusers.

In a statement, the Vatican hinted that it might, saying the commission would look into both "civil and canonical duties and responsibilities" for church personnel. Canon law does provide 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 paedophile 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. Also named was Cardinal Sean O'Malley, one of Francis' key advisers and the archbishop of Boston, where the US scandal erupted in 2002.

Two other members are professors at Rome's Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University, which in 2012 hosted a seminar for bishops from around the world to educate them on best practices to protect children. Several participants from that conference are now founding members of Francis' commission, including Baroness Sheila Collins, a British psychiatrist.

SNAP, the main US victims' group, said the pope did not need another study panel, he just needs to oust complicit bishops.

"He's had more than a year to defrock, demote, discipline or denounce even one of them," said SNAP's outreach director Barbara Dorris. "But, just like his predecessors, he refuses to take this simple but crucial step toward justice, healing and prevention."