Pope's sex abuse adviser seeks to keep survivor voice heard

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St.Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis' top sex abuse adviser insisted Thursday the pope is "thoroughly committed" to ridding the church of abuse, but acknowledged his advisory commission must regroup following the clamorous resignation of Irish survivor Marie Collins.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley told a seminar on protecting children that the commission has always maintained a "victims first" priority and that the issue of continued survivor involvement in its work would be discussed at the group's plenary meeting starting Friday.

The key question facing the commission, he said, is "how can victims and survivors continue to have a powerful voice in our work and help guide us?"

Collins resigned March 1 citing the "unacceptable" lack of cooperation from the Vatican's doctrine office in implementing the experts' proposals. Her departure dealt a blow to the commission's credibility, leaving it without any survivor participation, and again raised questions about the Vatican's commitment to fighting abuse, caring for survivors and accepting expertise from outside clerical circles.

Her resignation, which followed the suspension of the only other survivor on the board, was also a blow to Francis, who has won praise for creating the commission in 2014 and voicing "zero tolerance" for pedophiles, but has earned criticism for some problematic appointments, for scrapping a proposed tribunal to judge negligent bishops and for reducing penalties against a handful of abusers.

"Let there be no doubt about it: Pope Francis is thoroughly committed to rooting out the scourge of abuse in the church," O'Malley told the conference.

Several Vatican cardinals attended, including the Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Paorlin, and the heads of congregations that deal with bishops, religious orders and the laity — a clear sign of support for the commission and its work. Notably absent was the head of the doctrine congregation, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, whose office is responsible for processing abuse cases for canonical sanctions and who was the main object of Collins' criticism.

Parolin arrived to hear a devastating assessment of the effect that abuse has had on the credibility of the Catholic Church in Australia, where a royal commission is wrapping up a years-long investigation that found some 7 percent of priests had been accused of molesting some 4,444 children between 1980 and 2015.

"Sure, it may happen in other institutions. Sure it happens in families. But the fact that it happened in the Catholic Church says something about the corruption of the Catholic Church," said Francis Sullivan, head of the Australian bishops' council that is coordinating the church's response to the royal commission inquiry. "We have to come to terms with that cancer."

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