Pope vows new start in fight against clerical sex abuse

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Pope Francis said on Friday that changes to an advisory body on the prevention of sexual abuse represent a new start in the fight against pedophile priests, but admitted “much remains to be done”.

In March, the pope moved the Commission for the Protection of Minors into the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office, which oversees church investigations into abuse cases, in a bid to give it institutional power that critics say it lacks.

The reform “marks a new beginning,” the 85-year-old told commission members at the end of their plenary meeting on Friday. It also marked a new impetus in the pope’s efforts to restore confidence in the Catholic Church over a scourge that has plagued it globally.

He ordered the commission to produce a “reliable” annual report on the church’s initiatives to protect minors, which he said was essential for “transparency and accountability,” and hoped it would “provide a clear audit of our progress in this effort.

“Without that progress, the faithful will continue to lose confidence,” he said.

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Francis directly addressed fears that the status change could weaken the papal advisory body, which was created in 2014 and has often found itself at odds with the Vatican’s doctrine office.

“Someone might think that this could put your freedom of thought and action at risk, or even downplay the issue you are dealing with,” he said.

“That is not my intention, nor is it my expectation. And I invite you to be vigilant so that this does not happen.”

Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical abuse who served on the commission before resigning in 2017 over the church’s handling of the crisis, said in March that the change meant the advisory body had “officially lost even a semblance of independence”.

The commission remains “independent,” the pope insisted on Friday, repeating the word twice.

He said it was up to the commission to make sure “all sectors” of the church protected minors and cared for victims of abuse.

“Instances of child abuse by members of the clergy have been declining for several years in those parts of the world where reliable data and resources are available. There’s still much to do”.