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Catholic Church panel urges no exceptions in disciplining molesters

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 9:54 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — A commission advising Pope Francis on how to handle the sexual abuse crisis will recommend that negligent clerics be held accountable regardless of their rank in the Roman Catholic Church, Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley said on Saturday.

In many cases of abuse, most of which took place decades ago but surfaced in the past 15 years, bishops seeking to protect the church's reputation moved priests from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or alerting police.

The commission, made up of four men and four women from eight countries, including an Irish woman who was a victim of abuse, met for the first time since its formation in March, holding talks with the pope and Vatican officials.

“We see ensuring accountability in the Church as especially important,” the commission said in a statement.

O'Malley, known as a pioneer for a more open and forceful approach to tackling the scandal since he published a database of Boston clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors online in 2011, said rank should not have special privileges.

Boston's cardinal said accountability should apply to “every one in the church regardless of what their status is ... both for those who perpetrate the crime of sexual abuse and those who are negligent in child protection.”

O'Malley has Pittsburgh connections. He grew up in the South Hills, then attended elementary schools in Pittsburgh and St. Fidelis Seminary in Herman, Butler County.

The commission will draw up protocols for the pope to consider.

O'Malley said they would “lead to an open process that will hold people accountable to their responsibility to protect children” around the world.

Procedures to protect children and punish abusers are most advanced in countries such as the United States and Ireland.

But O'Malley said there was still “so much ignorance, so much denial” in some parts of the church about sexual abuse.

“There are a lot of people who think it's limited to certain countries and that it's been dealt with and now we can move on to something else and that is simply not true,” he said.

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