Papal sexual abuse commission 'developing processes' of accountability

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Somewhat cryptically hinting at possible new procedures for handling Catholic bishops who mishandle clergy sexual abuse, the Vatican commission advising Pope Francis on the issue says it is "developing processes to ensure accountability for everyone in the Church."

The commission, which met for the first time at the Vatican with all 17 of its members this weekend, makes the claim of such new processes in a press statement released Monday afternoon.

Mentioning the word "accountability" four times in the statement, the commission says it is "keenly aware that the issue of accountability is of major importance."

The commission says one of its working groups is specifically tackling the issue of "accountability of people in positions of responsibility within the Church when dealing with allegations of abuse."

In their weekend meeting, the commission says, "members agreed on an initial proposal to submit to Pope Francis for consideration."

It continues: "Moreover, the Commission is developing processes to ensure accountability for everyone in the Church - clergy, religious, and laity - who work with minors."

The Vatican commission on clergy sexual abuse, which the pope created to advise him on the protection of minors in all circumstances, is being led by Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley. Among its 17 members are two survivors of clergy sexual abuse, Irishwoman Marie Collins and Englishman Peter Saunders.

Commission members previously held a press briefing at the Vatican on Saturday, when they said that part of their work would be to make recommendations to the pope regarding consequences for Catholic bishops who do not follow church guidelines on preventing and reporting abuse.

While O'Malley on Saturday said the commission has yet to recommend specifically what those repercussions might be, he added: "Obviously, there has to be consequences."

"There needs to be procedures that will allow these cases to be dealt with in an expeditious way, rather than just having things open-ended," O'Malley continued, responding to a question from NCR about prelates like U.S. Bishop Robert Finn who remain in place despite mishandling sexual abuse cases.

Asked by NCR after the press conference about the fact that only the pope can remove bishops, Collins interrupted the question to say: "Currently, yes."

"All I can say is the commission is working on a means by which bishops can be made accountable," Collins, an Irish abuse survivor who serves on the commission, continued. "And if that goes forward ... there will be an answer to this problem."

Monday's press release says the commission is submitting "several proposals" to Francis for consideration. It also states that commission members agreed to develop seminars to educate church leaders in protecting minors.

"Conscious of the gravity of our task to advise the Holy Father in this effort, we ask you to support our work with prayer," the commission concludes its press release.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

A version of this story appeared in the Feb 27-March 12, 2015 print issue under the headline: Commission discusses sanctions for bishops.

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