VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ sex abuse commission has scored a victory within the Vatican: Members have been invited to address Vatican congregations and a training course for new bishops, suggesting that the Holy See now considers child protection programs to be an important responsibility for church leaders.
Commission members praised the development as a breakthrough given that bishops have long been accused of covering up for abusers by moving pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than reporting them to police. For decades, the Vatican too turned a blind eye and failed to take action against problem priests or their bishop enablers.
Commission members have already addressed the Vatican congregations for priests and religious orders and the Vatican’s diplomatic school. This week, members including Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins will address the new bishops’ course, which the Vatican hosts for all bishops named in the previous year to teach them how to run their dioceses.
The presentations come after the Vatican was embarrassed last year when, during the annual “baby bishops” course, a French monsignor told newly appointed bishops they aren’t required to report priests suspected of raping or molesting children to civil authorities.
He said it was up to the victims or their parents to do so.
The commission head, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, swiftly corrected him saying bishops have an “ethical and moral” obligation to report.
Monsignor Tony Anatrella also failed to brief the new bishops on the extensive anti-abuse efforts adopted by local churches around the world, despite the significant investment of resources those efforts have commanded.
Commission member, Baroness Sheila Hollins, praised the developments as evidence that the Vatican itself now considers educating even its own leaders about abuse and protecting children to be a top priority. In addition, she said, it shows the commission is now viewed as a resource.
Previously, the commission’s work has been met with some skepticism within the Vatican, where some prelates still consider the tough approach against abuse adopted by Francis and his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, to be excessive.
“I don’t believe it is because they were resistant,” Hollins said of the Vatican’s initial reaction. “I think it’s because they didn’t know.”