The Roman Catholic Church is making every effort to protect children, Pope Francis said Thursday as he ordered bishops around the world to cooperate with a new commission created to prevent child sexual abuse by clerics. The pontiff assured parents that protecting children was the church’s priority in a letter addressed to bishops and religious institutions, Reuters reported.
“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,” the pope said in the letter.
Francis’ warning came before a meeting of a commission established by the pontiff to reform the church’s approach to handling child sex-abuse cases by clerics, an issue that has severely harmed the church’s reputation in countries around the world, as Agence France-Presse reported. The commission is headed by American Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley. Also serving on it are both clerics and laypeople, including past victims of clerical sexual abuse, such as Marie Collins of Ireland.
Collins responded to the pope’s letter Thursday, saying commission members had specifically requested Francis’ public support before their meeting in Rome Friday to forestall resistance by bishops. “Bishops’ conferences have various views on abuse, as we know,” she told Reuters. “You must pre-empt that. If the commission wants cooperation ... then I think a letter from the Holy Father indicating that they [the bishops] should cooperate certainly lends the backing necessary to our work.”
In July, Francis celebrated a Mass attended by survivors of clerical sex abuse and pledged that any bishop who failed in his responsibility to protect children would “be held accountable,” according to the Catholic media site Crux. Skeptics of the Vatican’s child sex-abuse reform efforts have criticized the church for its slow pace in getting the commission, created in December 2013, up and running -- especially given the speed with which other reforms under Francis have been moving.