The browser or device you are using is out of date. It has known security flaws and a limited feature set. You will not see all the features of some websites. Please update your browser. A list of the most popular browsers can be found below.
The move would help protect children from pedophiles and better screen would-be priests, according to the Vatican. But it was dismissed as a "public relations stunt" by a leading victim advocacy group, who added that it would do little to shield young people from predatory priests.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, announced the creation of the commission Thursday at the conclusion of a meeting between Francis and his eight cardinal advisers in Vatican City who are helping him govern the church and reform the Vatican bureaucracy. Boston was the epicenter of the 2002 clerical sexual abuse scandal in the U.S.
O'Malley told reporters that the commission, made up of international lay and religious experts on sex abuse, would study current programs to protect children, better screen priests, train church personnel and suggest new initiatives to implement inside the Vatican and around the world.
"The Holy Father has decided to constitute a committee for the protection of children," O'Malley said at a press conference, adding that the make-up of the new body would be announced "in the near future."
However, it remains unclear if the experts will take up one of the core issues behind the Roman Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal: how to make bishops who shelter abusive priests accountable.
Just more of the same?
Barbara Blaine, the president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said despite the announcement, the move seemed "to be one more time that church officials are basically giving a lot of fluff, but not any substantive action."
"We believe that actions speak louder than words. What the Vatican is doing continues the same tried responses from previous popes," Blaine told Al Jazeera.
"Bottom line, church officials by and large have shown no commitment to protecting children," Blaine said.
Advocates for victims of clerical abuse have long denounced the Vatican's refusal to sanction bishops who shielded abusive priests and moved them from parish to parish rather than report them to police.
That practice, coupled with the church's culture of secrecy and fear of scandal, enabled pedophiles to continue molesting children for decades while the Vatican turned a blind eye.
"Quite frankly that's something that the church needs to address," O'Malley said, when asked if the commission would take up the issue. "I'm not sure whether it will be this commission or the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) or the Congregation for Bishops."
Asked about the seeming contradiction, O'Malley said competence for such issues still lies with local church leaders.
"The Holy See will try and help to identify best practices," he said. "Certainly we hope that the Holy See will be able to model what those best practices are as a way of helping other dioceses and bishops conferences to have a response that is truly adequate and pastoral."
But Blaine said that the pope needs to punish any bishop who shields church officials convicted of crimes, some of whom may have fled to another jurisdiction to avoid prosecution.
"No other secular not-for-profit in the world allows anyone who covers up sex crimes to continue in their jobs. But in the church, we see time and time again those who conceal sex crimes, get to keep jobs and (even get) promoted," Blaine said.
"If (the pope) were to order (and) make clear that no Catholic, religious house or institution, is permitted to provide hospitality, sanctuary, housing or jobs for any fugitives, that would immediately make children safer."