VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Thursday ordered Roman Catholic bishops around the world to fully cooperate with a commission he set up to protect children from sexual abuse by clerics and to give the issue top priority even if it unearths new scandals.
The pope sent the letter to the bishops and heads of religious institutions a day before the commission, which he established last year, was due to hold its first full meeting.
In the letter, the pope says: "Everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused."
"Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children ...priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors," he said.
One of the members of the commission, Marie Collins of Ireland, herself a victim of sexual abuse, told Reuters that commission members had asked the pope to write a letter to thwart any resistance from bishops to its work.
The 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic Church has been hit by scandal involving the sexual abuse of children by priests around the world in the past 15 years.
Since his election in March 2013, Francis has several times vowed zero tolerance for offenders but victims of abuse want him to do more and make bishops who allegedly covered up the abuse accountable.