Vatican's anti-child abuse panel to issue first full report in 2024

By Alvise Armellini

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -The Vatican panel due to produce annual reports on child abuse prevention within the Catholic Church will not deliver its first full review until 2024, its secretary said on Friday.

In April, after a wider constitutional overhaul of Vatican structures, Pope Francis gave the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors a mandate to produce the reports.

Clerical sex abuse and cover up scandals have rocked the 1.35 billion-member Catholic Church for decades, undercutting its moral authority and taking a toll on membership and coffers.

Greater transparency, new reporting procedures and tougher punishment for abusers and those who fail to go after them are part of Francis' stated "zero tolerance" response.

"Around October next year we'll have a good idea of what we want to say, (but) I don't think we're going to have data in place until the following year, 2024," said panel secretary Father Andrew Small.

Briefing reporters, he said the council, which has 20 lay and religious members including an advocate for abuse survivors, would issue a limited "blueprint" report in 2023.

Father Small said he was not sure "how much actionable data" it would have, whereas the 2024 report will have "evaluations of where there are gaps and holes and deficiencies."

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a respected U.S.-based organisation that tracks abuse, complained that the Vatican commission was moving too slowly.

"That’s a long time for the public to wait before knowing where children are at risk of sexual abuse," she said about the 2024 publication date, in a statement to Reuters.

The Vatican panel is meant to supervise efforts by national Catholic churches to adapt to and enforce the new anti-child abuse provisions introduced in recent years.

Its remit does not extend to reviewing specific cases of abuse or cover up, though its report might include data on how many such cases are known to the Vatican's disciplinary office.

Barrett Doyle said this was a major deficiency.

"The commission is prohibited from examining individual cases. This will hobble them tremendously. How can they render meaningful judgment without access to the evidence," she said.

Francis established the commission in 2014, a year after his election, to promote best practices and a culture of safeguarding in Catholic communities worldwide.

The panel got off to a rocky start, with several members resigning in frustration, complaining that it had no teeth and that they had met internal resistance.

In March, the pope gave the commission stronger clout when a new Holy See constitution placed it inside the Vatican's doctrinal department, which rules on abuse cases.

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini and Philip Pullella, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and David Gregorio)