Cardinal Sean O'Malley

Cardinal Sean O'Malley

February 23, 2015

Bishops who do not comply with the child protection norms must face real consequences, said Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The commission, he said, "is very, very concerned about this whole area of (bishops') accountability" and has a working group drawing up recommendations for Pope Francis.

The proposed new norms, the cardinal told reporters at the Vatican Feb. 7, "would allow the Church to respond in an expeditious way when a bishop has not fulfilled his obligations."

"We think we have come up with some very practical recommendations that would help to remedy the situation that is such a source of anxiety to everybody" on the pontifical commission, he said.

The cardinal and members of the commission, which includes survivors of clerical sex abuse, spoke to reporters at the end of their Feb. 6-8 meeting at the Vatican.

Peter Saunders, a survivor and commission member, said, "Bishop accountability is most definitely something that is a concern and central to some of the work that is going to be carried out by the commission."

Saunders, who is from London, said he knows the Vatican and the Church at large "operate in a slightly different time dimension" where the definition of "quick" may be months or years.

"I get that," he said, "but when it comes to time, children only get one stab at childhood."

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a psychologist and commission member, said, "as far as we know," the number of bishops who have not followed their conference's child-protection norms is not large.

"But it is certainly a huge problem in terms of publicity and in terms of the authenticity of the Church. If you have bishops who do not comply with the Church's own norms, we have a problem."

Currently, he said, even though bishops are part of a bishops' conference, they are accountable only to the pope. There is no procedure for investigating the way a bishop complies with the norms and nothing that spells out the consequences of noncompliance.


Saunders told reporters that if in the next year there is not "firm action" on accountability and the implementation of child-protection policies around the world, he would leave the commission.

Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical abuse, who was appointed to the commission about eight months before Saunders, told reporters she also would leave if no progress is seen soon.

"We're not here for lip service," Saunders said, but to protect children.