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Pope Francis sets up committee to combat child abuse

The Vatican has announced plans to set up a committee to come up ways with protecting children from sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It is also to look at ways of helping the victims.

American Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston announced on Thursday that Pope Francis had approved the creation of the committee after meeting with a group of his cardinal advisors.

"The Holy Father has decided to constitute a committee for the protection of children," O'Malley told reporters.

Among other things, the committee is meant to develop codes of professional conduct for clergymen, as well as guidelines for other church officials on how to deal with misconduct.

"The task will be to study the situation and make suggestions to the Holy Father," O'Malley added.

One major focus is also expected to be looking for ways of improving screening for men seeking to enter the priesthood.

It was not immediately clear exactly who would make up the committee, but O'Malley said its composition would be announced "in the near future." It is to be made up of international lay and religious experts on child abuse and is to begin by studying the church's current programs designed to protect children.

The committee is also to develop strategies for helping victims of abuse, but "the emphasis so far has been on legal procedures but less on the pastoral response," O'Malley said.

He added that the committee would also look at ways of working together with civil authorities combating abuse.

Thursday's announcement came a day after the Vatican submitted its response to questions from United Nations investigators on whether it was complying with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In its response, the Vatican said it could not be held legally competent for the abuses of Catholic clergymen

"When individual institutions of national churches are implicated, that does not regard the competence of the Holy See but rather the laws of the countries concerned," Father Federico Lombardi said. He added that Vatican officials would explain the church's position in detail at a meeting in Geneva in mid-January.

pfd/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)