The Vatican has renewed its clergy sexual abuse panel amid criticism over how Pope Francis is handling a scandal in Chile. A key Chilean victim has talked to a Vatican investigator in an hours-long meeting in New York.
With the Vatican coming under renewed pressure to handle priest sexual abuse scandals, Pope Francis has revived a clergy sexual abuse panel that lapsed two months ago.
US Cardinal Sean O'Malley (pictured above) has been named head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Eight women and eight men — nine of them new members — have been named to the panel.
The panel members include clergy and experts in safeguarding children and adults from sexual abuse, as well as victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse.
The three-year mandate of the sexual abuse panel had expired in December.
"The Holy Father has ensured continuity in the work of our commission, which is to assist local churches throughout the world in their efforts to safeguard all children, young people and vulnerable adults from harm," said O'Malley.
The panel will hold private meetings with victims of clergy sexual abuse, their family members and those who support them "in order that the advice offered to the Holy Father be truly imbued with their insights and experiences," a Vatican statement said.
Chile in focus
The renewed mandate of the panel comes as Pope Francis is under fire for defending Bishop Juan Barros of the diocese of Osorno in Chile.
Barros stands accused of covering up sexual abuse committed decades ago by his mentor Fernando Karadima, who was barred from ministry and sentenced to a lifetime of "penance and prayer" in 2010.
Barros has denied that he knew anything or that there was a cover-up.
Pope Francis, who appointed Barros as bishop in 2015 despite objections, said during a visit to Chile last month that Barros was innocent and there was no evidence against him.
The pope's answer to a journalist's question drew controversy: "The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?"
He later apologized, acknowledging that his choice of words and tone of voice had "wounded many."
Only days later on January 30, the pope announced he had appointed Archbishop Charles Scicluna to investigate the allegations against Barros.
Scicluna is listening to victims and will report to the pope.
Juan Carlos Cruz, a key witness against Barros, has claimed that he sent a letter to the pope in 2015 detailing the abuses and cover-up.
Cruz says he described abuse "in a very detailed letter which was handed to [the pope] by Cardinal O'Malley"
Cruz met with Scicluna in New York City on Saturday to tell his story.
"For the first time I feel that someone is listening," Cruz told reporters after the meeting. "We'll see what the outcome is of all this, but I feel that Monsignor Scicluna is a very good man, and I think he was sincerely moved by what I was saying. He cried," Cruz said.
The pope's commission to protect minors has faced criticism in the past, highlighted by the resignation of two panel members.
Marie Collins, an Irish victim who was raped by a hospital chaplain at the age of 13, quit the panel last year in protest over what she called "shameful" blocking of reforms.
Another sex abuse victim, Briton Peter Saunders, resigned in 2016 over a dispute about the panel's handling of allegations of serial abuse by an Italian priest.
cw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)