Pope Francis renews Sexual Abuse Commission amid criticism

Pope Francis has renewed a commission on clergy sexual abuse, confirming an American cardinal as its head, as the Vatican promises to give victims a greater say in its work.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) is made up of eight men and eight women – with nine of them new members.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston was re-appointed as the leader of the group.

“The Holy Father has ensured continuity in the work of our commission, which is to assist local churches through the world in their efforts to safeguard all children, young people, and vulnerable adults from harm,” Cardinal O’Malley said in a statement.

A Vatican statement said the commission’s goal and greatest challenge remained embedding “abuse prevention and protection into the life and action of local churches.”

Pope Francis under fire

The initial three-year mandate of the commission lapsed into dormancy in December, which coincided with growing criticism of the Pope’s commitment to addressing sexual abuse in the church.

The Pope has come under fire for his spirited defence of a bishop accused of witnessing sexual abuse.

During his trip to Chile in January, he told journalists that in the case of Bishop Juan Barros: “There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is slander. Is that clear?”

However, days later, he appointed the Church’s most experienced sexual abuse investigator to look into the accusations.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta starts his work in New York this week and is due to meet Juan Carlos Cruz, who says he was sexually abused when he was a teenager in Chile by a priest named Fernando Karadima.

Can the commission really make a difference?

Its first term was marred by two high-profile resignations, that of Marie Collins of Ireland and Peter Saunders of Britain. Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of abuse who was molested at age 13, left the panel in March 2017 over "stumbling blocks and hindrances" which she said had obstructed the group's purpose.

After the announcement of the panel's new members, she tweeted: "Why not reappoint willing members and let them return to the important projects they had been working on.... instead new people starting from scratch!"

British member Peter Saunders was also deeply critical of the PCPM, and took a leave of absence after other members took a vote of no confidence against him, reportedly finding him “difficult”.

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