VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Thursday ordered Roman Catholic bishops around the world to cooperate as a matter of priority with a commission he set up to protect children from sexual abuse by clerics, even if it unearths new scandals.
The pope, who met victims of abuse last year, sent the letter to the bishops and heads of religious institutions a day before the commission was due to hold its first full meeting.
"Everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused," the pope says in the letter.
"Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children ... priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors."
One of the members of the commission, Marie Collins of Ireland, herself a victim of sexual abuse, told Reuters that commission members had asked the pope for a letter to thwart any resistance from bishops, which she said some members expected.
"Bishops' conferences have various views on abuse, as we know. In my own country, Ireland, there was a great deal of resistance to change, to putting in all the correct, necessary prevention measures and treating survivors in the right way," she said by telephone.
"You must pre-empt that. If the commission wants cooperation ... then I think a letter from the Holy Father indicating that they (bishops) should cooperate certainly lends the backing necessary to our work," she said.
Part of the task of the commission, which is made up of 17 clerics and lay people from around the world, is to help dioceses put in place "best practices" to prevent abuse and work with victims in a process of healing. Eight members are women and two were sexually abused by clergy. The other victim is Peter Saunders of Britain.
The worldwide scandal, which came to global prominence in Boston in 2001, has seen known abusers shunted from parish to parish instead of being defrocked and handed over to authorities.
In a number of developed countries, particularly in the United States, the Catholic Church has paid tens of millions of dollars in settlements.
It has put in place new measures in recent years to protect children, but victims' groups say it must do more, and make bishops who allegedly covered up the abuse accountable.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Kevin Liffey