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Accountability is key concern for pope’s child protection commission

February 13, 2015
Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY – Bishops who do not comply with the child protection norms adopted by their bishops’ conferences and approved by the Vatican must face real consequences, said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The commission, he said, “is very, very concerned about this whole area of (bishops’) accountability” and has a working group drawing up recommendations for Pope Francis.

The proposed new norms, the cardinal told reporters at the Vatican Feb. 7, “would allow the church to respond in an expeditious way when a bishop has not fulfilled his obligations.”

“We think we have come up with some very practical recommendations that would help to remedy the situation that is such a source of anxiety to everybody” on the pontifical commission, he said. The recommendations will be presented to Pope Francis.

Cardinal O’Malley publicly thanked Pope Francis for a letter, released Feb. 5, insisting that the protection of children – and not the avoidance of scandal or bad publicity – must be the priority for the way all bishops deal with accusations of sex abuse by church personnel.

The pope’s letter also encouraged bishops to meet with and listen to survivors, which is something Cardinal O’Malley said “many bishops have not yet done.”

Commission member Peter Saunders told reporters, “There are far too many bishops around the world who have refused to meet with survivors.

The cardinal and members of the commission, which includes survivors of clerical sex abuse, spoke to reporters at the end of their Feb. 6-8 meeting at the Vatican.

Saunders, also a survivor, said, “Bishop accountability is most definitely something that is a concern and central to some of the work that is going to be carried out by the commission.”

“It is not disputed that there have been far too many cover-ups, there have been far too many clergy protected, moved from place to place – this has got to be consigned to history very quickly,” he said.

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a psychologist and member of the commission, said, “as far as we know,” the number of bishops who have not followed their conference’s child-protection norms is not large, “but it is certainly a huge problem in terms of publicity and in terms of the authenticity of the church. If you have bishops who do not comply with the church’s own norms, we have a problem.”

Currently, he said, even though bishops are part of a bishops’ conference, they are accountable only to the pope and there is no procedure for investigating the way a bishop complies with the norms and nothing that spells out the consequences of noncompliance.

“Until now every bishop has been a little pope” in his diocese and “can do whatever he wants” with regard to national guidelines, Father Zollner said. “Only the pope has authority over him.”

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