Pope Francis on Friday revealed the organising team for a special meeting on the protection of children to be held in February, in response to the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church worldwide.
His hand-picked team are all close associates: the Archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna, Father Hans Zollner, US cardinal Blase Cupich and Indian cardinal Oswald Gracias.
Archbishop Scicluna spent 10 years as a Vatican prosecutor investigating cases of paedophilia among the priesthood.
Zollner, a Jesuit priest, is an academic and psychotherapist who has travelled widely as part of his work in child protection. He is already part of the committee of experts advising the pope on the issue.
“The February meeting is unprecedented, and one that shows Pope Francis has made the protection of minors a fundamental priority for the Church,” said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke.
“This is about keeping children safe from harm worldwide. Pope Francis wants Church leaders to have a full understanding of the devastating impact that clerical sexual abuse has on victims.”
Two women with senior positions inside the Vatican will also help organise the event and survivors of abuse will have a role, he said. The event will run from February 21 to 24.
“The meeting is primarily one for bishops – and they have much of the responsibility for this grave problem,” said Burke.
Burke was speaking a day after a French priest was handed a two-year jail term for abusing children — and his superior, the former bishop of Orleans, 83-year-old Andre Fort, received a suspended sentence for having covered up the offences.
The meeting is expected to attract 180 participants, including the presidents of 113 episcopal conferences from around the world.
The Church has had to contend with a wave of scandals involving paedophile priests which have hit the Catholic faith in countries worldwide from Ireland and the United States to Australia.