6 Dec 2013

Pope assembles experts to tackle child sex abuse

8:22 am on 6 December 2013

Pope Francis has ordered the formation of a team of experts to address the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, in his first major step to tackle a crisis that has plagued it for two decades.

The group will consider ways to better screen priests, protect minors and help victims in the face of charges the Vatican has not done enough to guard the vulnerable or make amends.

Pope Francis.

Pope Francis. Photo: AFP

The precise mission and make-up of the committee were not made clear, nor how it would respond to one of the most common criticisms of the church: that bishops who shielded paedophile priests have not been held to account, Reuters reports.

But Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, told reporters the question of bishops who had not reported crimes was "something that the church needs to address". The cardinal is known as a pioneer for a more open approach to tackling scandal since he published a database of Boston clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors online in 2011.

The Vatican was criticised earlier this week for refusing to share details of its internal investigations into abuse cases with a United Nations panel.

The proposal for a child protection committee was first discussed on Wednesday and Pope Francis immediately approved the suggestion when told of it on Thursday, meaning it could be immediately announced, Cardinal O'Malley said.

Cases of abuse by clergy have forced the church to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation worldwide, bankrupting a string of dioceses.

Earlier this week the US Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis warned it planned to disclose the names of dozens of priests credibly accused of the sexual abuse of children.

The new body is likely to draw up guidelines on screening of priests, ways to help victims and cooperation with civil authorities over abuse cases, Cardinal O'Malley said.

It is also expected to examine ways to help communities affected by abuse and provide mental health care to victims.