Pope appoints abuse survivor to Vatican sex abuse commission

Pope Francis announces the first eight members of a new 'commission for safeguarding minors.' One was abused by a priest in the 1960s and has become a prominent activist working to hold the church accountable.

Andrew Medichini/AP
Pope Francis greets the faithful as he arrives at Rome's St. Gregorio VII church, just outside the Vatican, Friday, March 21.

Pope Francis announced the initial members of a commission to advise him on sex abuse policy Saturday, tapping lay and religious experts – including an Irish activist assaulted as a child by a priest – to start plotting the commission's tasks and priorities.

The eight members were announced after Francis came under criticism from victims' groups for a perceived lack of attention to the abuse scandal, which has seriously damaged the church's reputation around the world and cost dioceses billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.

The eight inaugural members of the commission include Marie Collins, who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland and has gone on to become a prominent Irish campaigner in the fight for accountability in the church.

Also named was Cardinal Sean O'Malley, one of Francis' key advisers and the archbishop of Boston, where the US scandal erupted in 2002. Cardinal O'Malley has pioneered a more open approach to tackling sex scandals, including publishing online a database of Boston clergy accused of sexually abusing minors.

Two other members are professors at Rome's Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University, which in 2012 hosted a seminar for bishops from around the world to educate them on best practices to protect children. Several participants from that conference are now founding members of Francis' commission, including Collins and Baroness Sheila Hollins, a British psychiatrist.

The Vatican in December announced that the pope had decided to create the commission to advise the church on best policies to protect children, train church personnel, and keep abusers out of the clergy. But no details had been released until Saturday, and it remains unknown if the commission will deal with the critical issue of disciplining bishops who cover up for abusers.

In a statement Saturday, the Vatican hinted that it might, saying the commission would look into both "civil and canonical duties and responsibilities" for church personnel. Canon law does provide for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but such punishments have rarely if ever been imposed in the case of bishops who failed to report pedophile priests to police.

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