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Pope's sex abuse panel to help new bishops improve child protection

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Newly appointed Catholic bishops will get training on how to deal with child abuse from a panel of experts, including victims, which Pope Francis set up to root out sexual molestation by clerics.

The move, announced on Monday, is a big step for the panel - made up of clerics and lay people, including women, mostly with little previous Vatican experience - that has struggled to be fully accepted within the Church’s power structure.

The decision to draw on the expertise of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors comes after a French monsignor who taught so-called “baby bishops” courses for new Church leaders, caused an uproar by telling them they did not necessarily have to report abuse to civil authorities.

Monsignor Tony Anatrella was later rebuked by the president of the commission, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who said bishops had “a moral and ethical responsibility” to do so.

The worldwide sex abuse scandal first came to light in Boston in 2001 when it was revealed that predatory priests were shunted from parish to parish instead of being defrocked and handed over to the police.

Francis has compared the abuse of children by priests to devil worship and vowed a “zero tolerance” approach, setting up the commission in 2014, a year after taking office, to advise him on how to root out sexual abuse within the Church.

But some commission members have complained about the slow pace of change in the Vatican and a British member who went public with his criticisms was put on leave of absence after the panel passed a no-confidence motion in him.

Peter Saunders, head of Britain’s National Association for People Abused in Childhood, who was abused by two priests as a child, called for the commission to go beyond its advisory mandate and speak out on specific cases.

After the commission met over the weekend, it was decided it would participate in two courses in the Vatican for new bishops, including the one that the French monsignor Anatrella spoke to last year.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy