Cardinal O’Malley joins Vatican office that reviews sex abuse cases

January 16, 2017 GMT

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s recent appointment to a Vatican council tasked with prosecuting sex abuse cases may impact the church’s role in preventing and responding to the crisis, local experts say.

Pope Francis named the head of the Boston Archdiocese to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of a series of appointments the Vatican announced over the weekend.

“Not only is it an area where the cardinal can be useful, but it recognizes the extend to which the pope has trust in O’Malley,” said Richard Gaillardetz, chair of the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College.

“One of the criticism of Francis that has the most substance is he has been slow in responding to the clerical sexual abuse crisis,” Gaillardetz said. “Cardinal O’Malley is someone he trusts, who has been in his ear to tell him this is a more important and serious issue than he may have realized.”

Headed by German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has helped prosecute cases for priests charged with sexual abuse since 2001. Pope Francis announced in June the congregation would also have a legal section.

“The appointment is encouraging but the proof is in the pudding, it’s a symbolic gesture in some ways, it says all the right things,” Gaillardetz said. “Appointing him makes a big statement, but we need to see how they handle bishops. For all the talk, we have not seen a lot talk around disciplining bishops who were responsible for reassigning priests who were abused children.

“O’Malley has expressed a willingness and a need to do that, will he be able to effect that change?” Gaillardetz added.

Peter Borre, a canonical consultant, agreed O’Malley has the ability to be a major influence in the congregation, which does not require he relocate to the Vatican. But Borre said O’Malley has not done enough to address the sex abuse scandal in his time in Boston.

“The track record of O’Malley with the (Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors), I would give it a D-plus to C-minus,” he said, adding O’Malley’s stance on relaxing the statute of limitations to allow victims a chance at justice and restitution would be important going forward.