Pope Francis has kept the promise he made last December to create a commission to advice him on policies to protect children and keep sexual abusers out of the clergy. The move comes as a sign that, unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Francis is willing to reach out to lay members as well as church officials in dealing with a scandal that has deeply tarnished the Catholic church, as well as cost it billions of dollars in legal fees and settlement payments around the globe.
The newly formed panel consists of 8 members including Irishwoman Marie Collins who was assaulted by a hospital chaplain when she was 13. Collins, who has been on a crusade to force the church to admit accountability spoke of her ordeal before a conference of bishops in 2012, including how Irish church authorities had refused to believe her when she reported the attack, and then told her it was her own fault.
“I was treated as someone with an agenda against the church,” she stated. “The police investigation was blocked and the laity misled. I was distraught and ended up in the hospital several times due to anxiety and depression as a result.”
Additional members of Pope Francis’s commission include one of his key advisors, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston (where the scandal first broke twelve years ago), as well as two professors at Rome’s Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University (which hosted the conference attended by Collins two years ago), and three other women.
While the Vatican released a statement saying that the panel would examine both “civil and canonical duties and responsibilities for church personnel,” it remains to be seen whether or not they will handle any disciplinary measures dealing with bishops who shield abusers.