VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis on Thursday ordered the formation of a team of experts to address the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, in his first major step to tackle a crisis that has plagued it for two decades.
The group will consider ways to better screen priests, protect minors and help victims in the face of charges the Vatican has not done enough to guard the vulnerable or make amends.
"The commission will be able to advise the Holy Father about the protection of children and pastoral care of victims of abuse," the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, told reporters in Vatican City.
The precise mission and make-up of the committee were not made clear, nor how it would respond to one of the most common criticisms of the church: that bishops who shielded pedophile priests have not been held to account.
But O'Malley, known as a pioneer for a more open approach to tackling scandal since he published a database of Boston clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors online in 2011, said the question of bishops who had not reported crimes was "something that the church needs to address".
The Vatican was criticised earlier this week for refusing to share details of its internal investigations into abuse cases with a United Nations panel.
The proposal for a child protection committee was first discussed on Wednesday and Francis immediately approved the suggestion when told of it on Thursday, meaning it could be immediately announced, O'Malley said.
Some commentators have faulted Francis for not doing enough to address the inherited abuse scandal since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.