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Catholic Church

Vatican advisory to develop clear and effective protocols on sexual abuse

After its first meeting at the Vatican, the advisory board on sexual abuse has said it is to develop clear and effective protocols to hold bishops and other church authorities accountable.

Member of the Vatican's sexual abuse advisory board, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said current church laws could hold bishops accountable if they fail to protect children. But he said those laws had not been sufficient to date and new protocols were needed.

"Obviously our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with the situations where superiors of the church have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children," O'Malley told reporters at the Vatican on Saturday.

That could include an effort toward creating an "open process" that "would hold people accountable for their responsibility to protect children."

O'Malley said the commission would also address how to advise bishops' conferences to improve their own guidelines for dealing with cases of abuse. The Italian bishops' conference said recently they were under no legal obligation to report suspected abuse to police.

In a concluding statement the advisory board said church accountability was "especially important" to the members and that in their founding statutes they would emphasize the "devastating consequences" for victims when suspected abuse is not reported.

O'Malley's predecessor in Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned his post after a sex abuse scandal was uncovered in 2002. But Pope John Paul II then appointed Law as archpriest of one of the Vatican's four major basilicas in Rome.

Pope Francis announced the creation of the commission last December and named its members in March.

Marie Collins, a committee member and Irish survivor of sexual abuse, said she came away from the inaugural meeting of the commission "hopeful" primarily because the issue of accountability had been addressed.

"I know there are many survivors around the world who are hoping, and have great expectations of this commission," Collins said. "And what I can say so far is you can't make concrete promises. But as a survivor myself, I am hopeful that we are going to achieve what is hoped for. It's very, very important."

jm/ccp (AP, AFP)