VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis renewed a commission on clergy sexual abuse on Saturday, confirming a U.S. cardinal as its head, as the Vatican promised to give victims a greater say in its work.
The renewal of the commission and the confirmation of Cardinal Sean O‘Malley of Boston as its head comes as the pope is dealing with an abuse scandal in Chile that has created one of the greatest image crises of his papacy, which marks its fifth anniversary next month.
The first, three-year mandate of the commission ended in December and its future had been uncertain.
Its first term was marred by two high-profile resignations, that of Marie Collins of Ireland and Peter Saunders of Britain. Both were victims of clergy sexual abuse when they were young and both stepped down in what they said was frustration over lack of change and insufficient cooperation by top Vatican officials.
A Vatican statement said victims of sexual abuse were among the members but that it was up to them to decide to disclose this outside the 16-member international commission, made up of nine new members and seven returning ones.
It said plans were at an advanced stage to create a group made up of victims of sexual abuse known as the International Survivor Advisory Panel (ISAP) to offer consultation on “abuse prevention from the survivor’s perspective”.
The mandate of the commission, which includes lay academics and psychologists, priests and nuns, is to promote best practice initiatives and educational programs to protect minors and vulnerable adults in local Catholic institutions around the world.
Its experts come from the United States, Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Ethiopia, India, Italy, Tonga, Germany, Brazil, Poland, South Africa, the Philippines, and Zambia. Ten are non-clerics and eight are women, including three nuns.
Francis has been under fire for remarks he made last month in Chile.
He initially said accusations against a Chilean bishop were “slander” and told reporters the Vatican had received no concrete evidence against him.
But days later, he appointed the Church’s most experienced sexual abuse investigator to look into the accusations that Bishop Juan Barros had covered up crimes against minors.
The investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, starts his work in New York on Saturday when he is due to meet Juan Carlos Cruz, who says he was sexually abused when he was a teenager in Chile by a priest called Fernando Karadima.
Karadima was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing teenage boys over many years. Karadima denies the allegations and Barros denied accusations that he witnessed Karadima carrying out the abuse.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Bolton