Pope Francis set up the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014 to fight clerical sex abuse, which will now collaborate with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization, according to the three-year agreement.
The commission has come under fire recently after its most influential member, Hans Zollner, quit in March, accusing the body of urgent problems related to compliance, accountability and transparency.
The agreement announced Friday calls for the commission to work together with the Dicastery in training sessions for newly appointed bishops, among other collaborative measures.
In an interview with Vatican News, the head of the commission, US Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said the group would conduct outreach to dioceses to help “develop programs, to be able to receive victims and have a pastoral care for them.”
Regarding the training of new bishops, who are all brought to Rome for such instruction, he said, “If we had had the opportunity to hear about safeguarding, and understand, the history of the church would have been different.”
“We always try and take a survivor, a victim with us so that the new bishops can hear firsthand just how dramatic the effect of this terrible crime has been on their lives,” O’Malley added.
Francis had asked the commission to work with bishops, to ensure “they have the capacity to be able to accompany the victims and to work with them.”
The head of the evangelisation dicastery, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, told Vatican News that one challenge for his department involved communicating laws and guidelines imposed by the Vatican to those in other regions.
“My impression is [that] the guidelines are clear for those of us who have been formed in a particular culture, and we tend to presume that what is clear to us is clear to other people now,” he said.
Zollner was the last remaining founding member of the commission to protect minors, where problems emerged just three years after it was established.
Abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned in 2017, saying the group faced fierce resistance within high echelons of the church.
Francis has vowed a zero-tolerance stance on abuse and has changed the law so that suspected cases must be reported, but victims’ associations say he still has not gone far enough.
The pope has recently tried to strengthen the commission by making it part of the Vatican office that processes clergy sex abuse cases.
Asked by Vatican News to respond to criticism of the commission, O’Malley said that at the body’s founding in 2014 there were “unrealistic expectations as to what this group of volunteers would be able to do to solve all the problems of sexual abuse in the Church and the world.”