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Papal commission on sex abuse to push for accountability

Pope Francis talks with children during a special audience with members of the "Catholic Action" in Paul VI hall at the Vatican May 3, 2014.
Pope Francis talks with children during a special audience with members of the "Catholic Action" in Paul VI hall at the Vatican May 3, 2014.

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A commission advising Pope Francis on the sexual abuse crisis will recommend that negligent clerics be held accountable regardless of their rank in the Church, Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley said on Saturday.

In many cases of abuse, most of which took place decades ago but surfaced in the past 15 years, bishops seeking to protect the Church's reputation moved priests from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or handing them over to police.

The commission, made up of four men and four women from eight countries including an Irish woman who was a victim of abuse, met for the first time since its formation in March, holding talks with the pope and Vatican officials.

"We see ensuring accountability in the Church as especially important," the commission said in a statement.

O'Malley, known as a pioneer for a more open and forceful approach to tackling the scandal since he published a database of Boston clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors online in 2011, said a person's rank in the Church should not be cause for special treatment or protection.

"Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with superiors in the Church who have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children," he told reporters.

Victims' groups have pressed the Vatican to hold bishops who either shielded abusers or were negligent in protecting children to account, along with abusers themselves.

IGNORANCE AND DENIAL

O'Malley said accountability should apply to "every one in the Church regardless of what their status is ... both for those who perpetrate the crime of sexual abuse and those who are negligent in child protection".

The commission, which includes Baroness Sheila Hollins of Britain, will draw up protocols for the pope to consider.

O'Malley said they would "lead to an open process that will hold people accountable to their responsibility to protect children" around the world.

Procedures to protect children and punish abusers are most advanced in countries such as the United States and Ireland.

But O'Malley said there was still "so much ignorance, so much denial" in some parts of the Church about sexual abuse.

"There are a lot of people who think it's limited to certain countries and that it's been dealt with and now we can move on to something else and that is simply not true," he said.

"The Church needs to always be reviewing what we have done, trying to improve what we have done, monitoring what we have done because it's possible to have beautiful policies but if they are not implemented it's only window dressing," he said.

Last month, Pope Francis sought forgiveness for the "evil" committed by priests who molested children.

In February, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes. The Vatican called the report unfair and ideologically slanted.

One key member of the Church commission is Marie Collins, a victim of abuse by a priest in her native Ireland and who has campaigned for the protection of children and for justice for victims.

"I know there are many, many survivors around the world who are hoping and have great expectations of this commission," she said.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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