From the eruption of the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church almost a decade and a half ago, one classic mode of denial in the Vatican and around the Catholic world has been to dismiss the crisis as an “American problem.”

Famously, when a senior Vatican official first faced the press in 2002 with regard to abuse cases, most questions came in English. Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos testily called that an “x-ray” of the problem – meaning, it was basically an American issue.

Both out loud and in private, some churchmen in Rome and other parts of the world often have said that while abuse of minors by priests is reprehensible, the idea of a “crisis,” and the perceived need for aggressive measures to combat it, has been driven by the sensationalistic media culture and litigious judicial system of the United States and nations most in its sphere of influence.

In a recent Crux interview, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York confirmed that this prejudice is still alive.

“We find it very demoralizing to hear bishops in other parts of the world, even some leaders in Rome, who still feel this is an Anglo-Saxon problem,” Dolan said, adding that some of his fellow bishops see the abuse issue as restricted to “the United States, England, Ireland, and Australia.”

What does it say, then, that Pope Francis has decided to entrust three of the most important positions in his anti-abuse effort to Americans?

On Wednesday, the Vatican announced that the Rev. Robert Oliver, a veteran of the Boston archdiocese, has been named Secretary of a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors created by the pontiff in December 2013, and that the Rev. Robert Geisinger, a Jesuit who previously worked in the Archdiocese of Chicago, has been appointed the new Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with lead responsibility for prosecuting accused clergy under church law.

At the same time, the Vatican confirmed that Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston is the new commission’s president. (Honestly, most people had assumed that was already O’Malley’s role, though officially he had always been described simply as a member of the body.)

To be clear, all three men are recognized leaders of the church’s reform wing on the sex abuse crisis.

Oliver served briefly under Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, who resigned in disgrace for mishandling abuse charges, and Oliver was faulted by some victims’ groups at the time for not joining the public push for Law’s resignation.

Under O’Malley, however, Oliver played a key role in crafting and then enforcing new anti-abuse policies, and was asked to consult widely by other dioceses scrambling to respond to their own cases.

Since 2012, Oliver held the Promoter of Justice position now occupied by Geisinger, and has been serving behind the scenes as the chief of staff for the new commission.

Geisinger has been the Procurator General of the worldwide Jesuit order since 2001, making him the in-house canon lawyer for the Jesuit superior in Rome. He’s a well-regarded expert on church law who’s been on the front lines of that dimension of the abuse crisis from the beginning.

I can testify that when reporters in Rome needed a crash course in canon law in the early 2000s as the abuse crisis gathered strength, Geisinger was often the one who would patiently and cogently explain how the church’s legal system works, and how bishops could have been using it all along to deal forcefully with abuse allegations.

Geisinger is known for a prodigious work ethic, which will serve him well given the perceived slow pace at which appeals to expel accused abusers from the priesthood sometimes move in Rome.

In his Crux interview, Dolan said bishops sometimes “cringe” at the lack of speed with which even “clean-cut cases” are handled.

O’Malley, of course, is virtually the public face of the clean-up effort. Although victims groups fault several aspects of his record, including what they see as less than full disclosure about accused clergy, he is nevertheless the senior Catholic prelate most identified with the reform cause, not just in the United States but almost everywhere.

It’s telling that when the Italian superior of O’Malley’s Capuchin religious order recently wanted to push through a new set of anti-abuse policies, he felt he could face down recalcitrance from other parts of the world only with O’Malley at his back – and, with the cardinal’s endorsement, the order adopted the policies.

Given all that, Francis clearly has underlined his commitment to reform with these three appointments. Yet there’s also a roll of the dice involved.

The potential upside is that these choices send a signal that the “zero tolerance” approach first adopted by the American bishops is now virtually papal policy, and that other bishops’ conferences and religious orders around the world have no choice but to follow the Americans’ lead.

However unsatisfactory the response of some individual American bishops to abuse cases may occasionally seem, most observers say the problem has been a failure to apply the policy, not in the approach itself, which is seen around the Catholic world as the most aggressive and comprehensive on the books.

On the other hand, the risk is that putting Americans in these jobs will cement the prejudice that this really isn’t a global challenge, but something that mostly applies to the English-speaking world, where these officials have the best contacts and presumably wield the most influence.

Oliver says that one immediate task for the new commission is bringing in members from across the developing world, meaning Africa, Asia, and Latin America. That’s probably even more urgent now, to make it clear that Francis wants the whole church on board, not just the Anglo-Saxon slice of it.

Francis’ American line-up represents a gamble, and now victims of clerical abuse, their families and friends, and everyone concerned with child protection will be watching closely to see if it pays off.