Pope Francis To Combat Clergy Sex Abuse With New Committee

On Monday, Pope Francis announced that he would be launching a new committee within the Vatican to fight child sex abuse by priests. The news comes just days after the Pope prayed for victims of clergy sex abuse in the Netherlands — and after the Vatican refused to provide the United Nations with information on such cases. (The U.N. is due to question Vatican officials on the matter in January.) It also comes after a Minnesota judge ruled Tuesday that the names of the accused priests in some of the state's communities could be publicized online.

Earlier this year, the Pope strengthened protections against clergy sex crimes, expanding the definition of "crimes against minors" to include sex abuse. Now, some Minnesota communities are coming face-to-face with that reality in their own neighborhood: A local judge ruled on Tuesday that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as the Diocese of Winona, must release the names of priests believed to have sexually abused minors. 34 of the at least 46 names ordered released were posted online Thursday, in the web edition of the Catholic Spirit. Many of the priests named in this first release are now deceased.

The Vatican has been under fire for years for its lack of transparency regarding the Church's handling of its sex abuse allegations. In the Minnesota case, The Archdiocese and Diocese have fought attempts to release the names of accused priests for years. Minnesota Public Radio reports that officials changed their minds about releasing names after an investigation found that authorities had actually protected an accused priest.

“All clergy feel the shame of the acts of some of their brother priests. We deeply regret the pain caused by sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and we remain committed to protecting children and promoting healing for victims,” Archbishop John Nienstedt, said in a statement. “I sincerely pray that these efforts will contribute to the healing process for victims and others who have been harmed, and serve to protect God’s children and foster trust in the Church.”

One of the most shocking things about the Minnesota disclosures is just how many people were affected by them, even as the community waits on more names from the Winona Diocese. The accused priests served 92 of the 188 parishes in the archdiocese, which amounts to nearly every other one.

On Monday, the Pope apologized to victims of priest sex abuse in the Netherlands. "In particular, I wish to express my compassion and to ensure my closeness in prayer to every victim of sexual abuse, and to their families; I ask you to continue to support them along the painful path of healing, that they have undertaken with courage," he said. The sex abuse scandals were rumored to be a factor in the resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict.