Pope Francis admitted the Catholic Church was ‘a bit late’ in acknowledging the damage done by paedophile priests as he met with his sex abuse advisory commission for the first time on Thursday.
The panel of experts was named in 2014 to guide the Church on best practices to protect children.
Pope Francis went off script as he spoke after his meeting with the abuse advisory commission.
After the meeting Francis promised the ‘firmest measures possible’ to tackle abusers and said the ‘primary responsibility’ to keep congregations safe lay with bishops, according to Associated Press. He warned they would be help accountable if found to be negligent.
But in unscripted remarks he also confessed the Church’s initial response to the scandal had been slow and blamed a previous policy of moving abusers from parish to parish rather than defrocking them.
‘The consciousness of the Church arrived a bit late, and when the consciousness arrives late, the means to resolve the problem arrive late,’ Francis said. ‘Perhaps the old practice of moving people around, and not confronting the problem, kept consciences asleep.’
In the three years since the Pope’s abuse commission was set up it has faced such stiff opposition to its proposals from the Vatican that its most promiment member, Irish abuse victim Marie Collins, resigned in frustration in March.
Now the group’s status and membership are up for renewal but it is not clear whether the new panel will include any survivors of abuse.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and head of the commission, said the group had ‘benefited greatly’ from hearing from past victims but would not confirm whether any survivors were being considered for membership.
He said the commission was looking for ‘representatives from churches in different parts of the world’.