Vatican revives Pope's sexual abuse panel

Pope Francis puts ashes on the head of a cardinal during the Ash Wednesday Mass, Feb 14, 2018.
Pope Francis puts ashes on the head of a cardinal during the Ash Wednesday Mass, Feb 14, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - The Vatican said Saturday (Feb 17) it has renewed its anti-paedophile panel as Pope Francis acts to quell the global scandal over the sexual abuse of children by priests.

The panel had come under fire from two high-profile members, former sex abuse victims who quit at what they saw as a lack of reform and obstruction at the highest level of the Catholic Church.

Victims have come forward from across the world over the past two decades accusing priests of sex crimes, unleashing one of the biggest crises faced by the Catholic Church.

US Cardinal Sean O’Malley was confirmed as the head of the child protection panel along with seven other incumbent members, while nine new members were added, the Vatican said.

“The newly-appointed members will add to the commission’s global perspective in the protection of minors and vulnerable adults,” O’Malley said in a statement.

“The Holy Father has ensured continuity in the work of our commission, which is to assist local churches throughout the world in their efforts to safeguard all children, young people, and vulnerable adults from harm.”

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was set up in 2014 shortly after Francis was elected pope, but its work has come in for fierce criticism from some of its own members.

Marie Collins of Ireland, who was raped by a hospital chaplain at the age of 13, quit the panel in March last year in protest at what she said was the “shameful” blocking of reforms.

Briton Peter Saunders, another sex abuse victim, also left in 2016 after a row over the panel’s handling of allegations of serial abuse by an Italian priest.

'GREAT HUMILIATION'

As well as O’Malley, the commission is now made up of eight men and eight women the Vatican said were international experts in safeguarding children and adults from the crime of sexual abuse.

Some of the new members are themselves victims of abuse, the Vatican said in a statement.

The commission will begin its work in April “by listening to and learning from people who have been abused, their family members and those who support them”, it said.

The announcement of the revival of the committee came just days after it was revealed that Francis held regular private meetings with people abused by members of the priesthood.

Francis has often spoken out about the scandal and vowed zero tolerance towards what he has described the scandal as a “great humiliation” for the Catholic Church.

But many victims remain bitter over alleged coverups and inaction by the Church in the years since the scandal erupted.

Francis himself has most recently been attacked for supporting Chilean bishop Juan Barros, who is accused of covering up crimes by a paedophile priest.