A commission advising Pope Francis on the sexual abuse crisis will recommend that negligent clerics be held accountable regardless of their rank in the Church, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said on Saturday. In many cases of abuse, most of which took place decades ago but surfaced in the past 15 years, bishops seeking to protect the Church’s reputation moved priests from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or handing them over to police.
The commission, made up of four men and four women from eight countries including an Irish woman who was a victim of abuse, met for the first time since its formation in March, holding talks with the pope and Vatican officials.
“We see ensuring accountability in the Church as especially important,” the commission said in a statement, Reuters reports.
Victims’ groups have pressed the Vatican to hold bishops who either shielded abusers or were negligent in protecting children to account, along with abusers themselves.
The commission, which includes Baroness Sheila Hollins of Britain, will draw up protocols for the pope to consider.
Procedures to protect children and punish abusers are most advanced in countries such as the United States and Ireland.
Last month, Pope Francis sought forgiveness for the “evil” committed by priests who molested children.
In February, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes. The Vatican called the report unfair and ideologically slanted.
Pope Francis on Friday personally asked forgiveness for child sex abuse by priests – the first time he has made such an apology since being elected last year.
“I feel compelled… to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the pope said at a meeting with members of a children’s charity, Vatican Radio reported. Francis said the number of guilty priests was “quite a few in number” but “obviously not compared to the number of all the priests”.
“The Church is aware of this damage,” he said.
“It is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed,” he added.
Francis was meeting with members of International Catholic Child Bureau, which works to protect the rights and dignity of children worldwide.
Thousands of cases of abuse by priests have come to light over the past decade and the Catholic Church is regularly accused of trying to cover up the crimes.
But the Vatican has vowed a zero-tolerance approach and has begun implementing prevention and detection measures to root out abuse, although this varies widely between different countries.
Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI had also made a personal apology for the abuses.