ROME -- Pope Francis on Thursday announced the creation of a new task force aimed at protecting children and caring for victims of abuse. It marks the Vatican's first public step under Francis' leadership to tackle the sexual abuse scandals that have tarnished the church's image worldwide.
Francis, who became pope in March, has drawn praise for his humble and charismatic style and willingness to confront prickly issues. But he had drawn fire in recent weeks for failing to address the sex scandals, most recently on Tuesday when the Vatican declined to provide information to a United Nations inquiry on the topic.
The Vatican said the creation of the task force, which will "advise Pope Francis on the Holy See's commitment to the protection of children and the pastoral care of victims of abuse," had been in the works for some time. The committee will conduct investigations, foster cooperation with civil authorities, and counsel the pope, Italian media reports.
The makeup of the committee was not revealed.
Rank-and-file Catholics said they would take a wait-and-see attitude about the developments.
"I am myself a lapsed Catholic to a large part because of these abuses," said Rose Giannone, an Italian-Australian writer who splits her time between the two countries. "I'm cautiously optimistic, but I'm almost fearful to hope because I cannot forgot the victims."
Gianmarco Basile, a computer technician and practicing Catholic, agreed.
"I will be more interested to see what this committee recommends than to celebrate because it has been created."
Advocacy groups greeted the news as too little too late.
"It's like offering a Band-Aid to an advanced cancer patient," David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement. "Only decisive action helps. Not more studies and committees and promises. No institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, secretive, rigid, all-male monarchy."
Two days ago, the Vatican rebuffed in inquiry from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, claiming that handing over information on clergy accused of sex crimes would be inappropriate because it fell under the laws of the country where the alleged offenses took place.
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