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By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Friday asked for an annual audit evaluating how national Catholic Churches are implementing measures to protect children from clergy sexual abuse, saying that without more transparency the faithful will continue to lose trust.
"Abuse in any form is unacceptable," Francis told members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was established in 2014 to promote best practices and a culture of safeguarding worldwide.
The commission had a rocky start, with several members resigning in frustration, complaining that it had no teeth and that they had met internal resistance.
It was given a new lease on life in March, when the Vatican's updated constitution placed it in the doctrinal department, which rules on abuse cases.
Francis said he wanted a yearly "reliable account on what is presently being done and what needs to change" to protect children and vulnerable adults from predator clergy.
"This report will be a factor of transparency and accountability and – I hope – will provide a clear audit of our progress in this effort," Francis said.
"Without that progress, the faithful will continue to lose trust in their pastors, and preaching and witnessing to the Gospel will become increasingly difficult." he said.
The worldwide sexual abuse crisis has cost the Church massive damage to its credibility and billions of dollars in settlements, with some dioceses declaring bankruptcy.
The commission, which does not deal with individual cases but acts in an advisory capacity, is made up mostly of lay people, including clergy sexual abuse survivors such as Juan Carlos Cruz of Chile, one of most vocal defenders of abuse victims.
Father Andrew Small, its secretary, told a news conference that the annual audit would detail the strength of guidelines in individual countries, dioceses, national bishops conferences and regional bishops conferences.
He said the pope told them their job was to "supervise, be vigilant, oversee, encourage and report back". In his address, Francis promised the commission autonomy with a direct reporting line to him.
One part of the mandate is to determine if dioceses are conforming to a 2019 papal directive ordering "public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission" of reports of sexual abuse.
Some countries, such as the United States, established procedures, sometimes known as "listening centres", even before the 2019 directive, but others, particularly in the developing world, have been slow to conform.
"Sexual abuse in the Church has been going on for far too long and we still have a long way to go," said Cruz.
"The commission will help and also oversee that bishops conferences around the world implement these offices where survivors can go to receive attention, receive the care that they need and receive some kind of explanation where their cases are," Cruz said.
"Not knowing the status of a complaint can be incredibly re-traumatising and re-victimising for survivors," he said.
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(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by David Gregorio)