ROME — Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, in his capacity as president of a papal commission on sexual abuse, has called on bishops around the world to meet with victims of clerical abuse and also has asked every bishops’ conference to designate a contact person to coordinate anti-abuse efforts.

Speaking in a Vatican briefing on Saturday, O’Malley said that meeting with victims was a life-changing experience for him and also an eye-opener on how little the Church had done on the issue by 1993, when he first encountered it.

O’Malley said “there have to be consequences” for bishops who don’t respond appropriately to reports of abuse, including procedures that allow these cases to be handled efficiently and not in an “open-ended way.”

Commission members also criticized Pope Francis’ remarks that it’s okay for parents to spank their children, saying there is no place for physical discipline. The panel plans to make recommendations to him about protecting kids from corporal punishment.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, created by Francis in March 2014, is holding its first full meeting in Rome Feb. 6-8. Its mandate is to help the pope and each diocese establish guidelines on how to prevent abuse and how to deal with it if it occurs.

After a recent slate of new appointments by Francis, the panel now has 17 members. Ten are laypeople (six of them women, and two survivors of sexual abuse), plus five priests and two nuns.

Three experts come from the United States, two from England, and the rest from France, Colombia, Philippines, New Zealand, Zambia, Italy, Germany, and South Africa.

O’Malley said the commission is preparing materials for a Day of Prayer for all those who have been harmed by sexual abuse.

“Such an activity,” O’Malley said, “underscores our responsibility to work for spiritual healing and also helps raise consciousness among the Catholic community about the scourge of child abuse.”

Conscious of the fact that many dioceses in the developing world have annual budgets as low as $30,000, O’Malley said the commission is reaching out to Catholic funding organizations to ask them to include requirements concerning child protection in their guidelines for eligibility for funding.

The cardinal said countries that have to do the most work on child protection issues often lack resources, so they’re asking funding organizations to award grants to them to further that work and train Church personnel.

O’Malley also said he hopes the work done by the commission benefits society as a whole, not just the Church, because 70 percent of minors who are sexually abused are abused at home.

Also present at the news conference was Sister Kayula Lesa, a Religious Sister of Charity from Zambia, who has extensive experience in education and child protection as well as with refugees and victims of human trafficking.

Sister Lesa said the commission’s opportunity to create legal frameworks that protect children is urgently needed in her country as well as in other regions of Africa, where girls as young as 13 are being married off — a practice considered acceptable.

“If we start talking about it, even if only at church level, it might help find solutions,” she said.

Englishwoman Baroness Sheila Hollins brought up this issue while talking to Crux after the news conference. “The commission is called Commission for the Protection of Minors, but in 2010, the Church defined minors to include vulnerable adults,” she said.

“But we’re still trying to define what we mean by vulnerable adults, since not all the countries and cultures define it in the same way. It’s very easy to know what a child is. But are girls that are being married at 12 or 13 children or adults?”

For the Church, childhood ends at 18, but, Hollins said, “what about adults who have difficulties with reasoning?”

A member of the board of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Hollins did most of her clinical work with patients with learning disabilities who had been abused. Since not many people are familiar with disabilities, she said, it’s an issue that tends to be forgotten, she said.

“But we believe that as many as 50 percent of disabled people have been sexually abused during their childhood,” Hollins, who has a son with learning difficulties, said.

Since she was appointed to the House of Lords — the upper chamber of the United Kingdom parliament — Hollins said she’s been working on being the voice for those with mental and intellectual disabilities.

When the Vatican holds a press conference, if there’s a cardinal speaking at it, he usually becomes the center of attention. But this time, it was Peter Saunders of Great Britain, a survivor of sex abuse by two priests and others, who stole the show.

The 57-year-old Saunders heads a London-based group called the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC). For the past 19 years, he has provided a support system for other victims.

Saunders was outspoken in his call for bishops’ accountability, saying that there’s still an “abysmal record of so many ill-judged responses by priests and dioceses around the world.”

The Englishman also said that he expects to see progress on the fight against clerical sexual abuse within the next one or two years, including the possibility of the Church handing its records on the matter to public authorities.

“If not,” Sanders said, “don’t expect to see me here again by then.”

He also thanked Pope Francis for urging the members of the commission to speak their minds and not to be “yes-people.”

Toward the end of the press conference, Saunders even made some recommendations to the journalists who were present, reminding them that those who have suffered sexual abuse don’t consider themselves victims, but survivors, and that the world “historic” should never be attached to sexual crimes.

“When you’re abused, the memory of it stays with you forever,” Saunders said.

Talking exclusively to Crux after the presentation was done, he added that the media, as well as society, should keep the pressure on to guarantee the protection of children.

“On the Vatican, the Curia, the men in gray suits,” Saunders said. “But also on governments and politicians. The Church has been bad at this, but governments haven’t been any better.”

Saunders was invited to join the commission last December, six months after meeting Pope Francis as one of the handful of sex abuse victims the Argentinian pontiff met in a private audience in July.

Following the pope’s advice, Saunders didn’t keep anything in during the hour-long press conference, even addressing the “elephant in the room” as he called it, of Pope Francis saying that spanking children can sometimes be acceptable.

“I’m pretty sure that had Pope Francis proposed to that young lady he was keen on so many years ago, and had gone down that road and gotten married, I’m sure he would have raised children that wouldn’t have suffered any kind of violence,” he said. “But he went down another road and became pope. He doesn’t have to raise children, he doesn’t know much about that.”

“And I think it’s a perfect illustration of why he’s asked the commission, a mixed bag of people, some of us parents, some of us not, to advise him on these matters,” Saunders said.

This issue is something Saunders said he would like to talk to the pope about. He said considering the millions of children around the world who are being hit by their parents, the whole idea of inflicting pain as a way to discipline children has no place in this day and age.

When asked what survivors need, based on his experience, Saunders said it’s someone to talk to, someone they can come to and speak with to unburden themselves.

“I know of the value of having someone to talk about this, who won’t belittle you, who won’t ask you to go away. In NAPAC we don’t give advice, we don’t tell people what to do. And I think there’s nothing more cathartic than allowing somebody to share their pain.”

Saunders said the Vatican commission is tackling an issue that has been ignored for thousands of years.

“And the problem is even more pronounced when you’ve been abused by the clergy, because in most cases, the survivors lose their faith. They don’t even have God to talk to.”