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Pope Revives Lapsed Sex Abuse Panel

FILE: Pope Francis gestures during a news conference on board of the plane during his flight back from a trip to Chile and Peru, January 22, 2018.

Pope Francis has reactivated his sexual abuse advisory panel by restructuring its membership, following criticism of his handling of scandals that have staggered the Catholic Church for more than three decades.

The Vatican announced Saturday that Francis reconfirmed Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the northeastern U.S. city of Boston as head of the panel, the reconfirmation of seven members and the appointment of nine new ones. The reshuffling comes two months after the panel's three-year mandate lapsed. None of the most fervent lay victims' advocates from the original group returned, but the Vatican said the commission's work would be influenced by the experiences of victims.

The announcement was made on the same day a Vatican investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, is due to meet in New York City with Juan Carlos Cruz. Cruz says he was sexually abused when he was a teenager in Chile by a priest named Fernando Karadima. A Vatican probe found Karadima guilty in 2011 of abusing teenage boys over many years.

Scicluna was appointed by the pope to look into accusations that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros had covered up sex abuse crimes against minors committed by Karadima and others.

The appointment of Scicluna, the Vatican's most experienced sexual abuse investigator, surprised many, as it came just days after Francis initially said accusations against Barros were "slander." The pope told reporters after visiting Latin America recently that the Vatican had no hard evidence against the bishop, creating one of the greatest public relations crises of his papacy.

Amid intense criticism of the pope's defense of Barros, the Vatican said Thursday the pope regularly meets with victims of sexual abuse in an effort to "help them heal the grave wounds caused by the abuses they suffered."

The first members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including Marie Collins, were appointed in March 2014. Collins, an Irish survivor of abuse and a victims' advocate, resigned in March of 2017, citing the "unacceptable" resistance to the commission from within the Vatican.