Pope Francis on Tuesday named a new official to oversee the Vatican office that processes clerical sex abuse cases amid mounting criticism over the backlog of cases and Francis’s handling of the problem.
The promotion of Mgr John Kennedy to head of the discipline section of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) was the second abuse-related appointment in recent days. Francis named Fr Hans Zollner, one of the Catholic Church’s top experts on fighting abuse and protecting children, as an adviser to the Vatican’s office for clergy on Saturday.
Francis and the Vatican have come under fresh scrutiny over their response to the abuse crisis since Irish survivor Marie Collins resigned from the Pope’s sex abuse advisory commission on March 1, citing “unacceptable” resistance to the commission’s proposals from the Vatican’s doctrine office.
Mgr Kennedy was an assistant to the previous discipline section chief, Fr Miguel Funes Diaz, one of three congregation officials who recently left. The Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said Francis had approved their replacements as well as additional staff to handle cases, which by some estimates take two to three years to process.
The CDF assumed responsibility for processing abuse cases in 2001 after then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, determined that dioceses weren’t disciplining paedophiles as Church law required. The change required bishops and religious superiors to submit all credible accusations to the congregation, which decides how to proceed.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads Francis’s abuse advisory commission, said in a recent interview that the CDF needed more resources to deal with the caseload and related issues. Francis earlier this year named Cardinal O’Malley to the congregation’s membership in a first key move to place commission members inside Vatican offices to lend their expertise.
Fr Zollner, the new addition to the clergy office’s board of advisers, is another member of the Pope’s abuse advisory commission. He heads the Center for Child Protection at the Jesuits’ Pontifical Gregorian University, which runs programs to train Church personnel in child safety and abuse awareness.
As an adviser to the Congregation for Clergy, he will have a hand in advising the Vatican office responsible for training the world’s Catholic priests in best practices.