VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is urging bishops and religious superiors to cooperate with his sex abuse commission, seeking to give the committee a boost as it prepares to meet for the first time with its full membership.
In a letter released Thursday, Francis said the commission is an important new way to encourage the church's commitment to taking "whatever steps are necessary" to ensure children are protected.
"Priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors," Francis wrote.
The commission has been slow getting off the ground: Announced in December 2013, it saw its final members added in December 2014 and still has no statutes. But members have divided themselves into working groups focusing on areas such as reaching out to abuse survivors, holding bishops accountable and keeping pedophiles out of the priesthood, and will meet for the first time as a group starting Friday.
Francis formed the commission after initially facing criticism that he had largely ignored the clerical sex abuse scandal that had so tarnished the papacies of his two predecessors. The aim is to come up with best practices for dioceses and religious orders to implement.
It followed several other initiatives to ensure that bishops' conferences around the globe were really tackling the issue, including the 2011 request from the Vatican for bishops to develop national guidelines to prevent abuse.
In his letter, Francis said "every effort" must be made to implement those guidelines, review them periodically and ensure they are being observed.
He said the sex abuse commission is designed to provide them with help to do so, including with education and training programs.
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