Pope Francis’ Commission for the Protection of Minors, meeting in the Vatican, May 1-3, expressed solidarity with the victims/survivors of sexual abuse of minors by priests, and promises it will seek accountability for child protection “at all levels in the Church”
gerard o’connell Taken from Vatican Insider
rome“I’m coming away with a very positive view from the meeting!” That was the verdict of Marie Collins, a married woman who had been sexually abused as a child by a priest in Dublin, Ireland, after participating in the first plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors set up by Pope Francis last December.
She gave her positive verdict on the Commission’s work at a press conference in the Vatican, May 3, sitting beside Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, one of the leading American bishops in the fight against child abuse of minors by clergy, and Fr Hans Zollner, the German Jesuit who organized a major international symposium on this matter at Rome’s Gregorian University three years ago.
Collins revealed that she had met Pope Francis twice in these days, “something I could not have even imagined happening some years ago”. She is the first victim of child abuse that Pope Francis has met since.
Collins was one of four women, and the only survivor/victim, on the eight-person Commission named by the Pope to the Commission in March, which met in the Vatican on May 1-3. The other members are Catherine Bonnet ( France), Baroness Shelia Hollins (UK) Cardina Seán O’Malley (USA), Mr. Claudio Papale (Italy) Hanna Suchocka,( Poland), and two Jesuit professors from the Gregorian University; Miguel Yáñez (Argentina) and Hans Zollner (Germany).
At the beginning of the press conference, Cardinal O’Malley read out a statement from the Commission in which its members stated clearly the paramount importance they give to “the best interests” of the child or vulnerable adult when making any decision. In their statement they said:
“As we begin our service together, we wish to express our heartfelt solidarity with all victims/survivors of sexual abuse as children and vulnerable adults and to share that, from the very beginning of our work, we have adopted the principle that the best interests of a child or vulnerable adult are primary when any decision is made.”
“During our meetings”, the Cardinal said reading the statement, “Each of us have been able to share our thoughts, experiences, and our aspirations for this Pontifical Commission.” As requested by Pope Francis, their discussions “focused on the Commission’s nature and purpose and on expanding the membership to include people from other geographical areas and other areas of expertise.”
Cardinal O’Malley, responding to questions, confirmed that other members will be added to the Commission by the Pope in due course, including survivors/victims of abuse, and persons from different geographical areas.
Participants also presented “many proposals for ways in which the Commission might collaborate with experts from different areas related to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults”, he said, reading the statement. He said the Commission had met “some people from the Roman Curia regarding areas for future cooperation”, including representatives from the Secretariat of State, the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Clergy, the Vatican Press Office, and the Vatican Gendarmerie.
This body is “an advisory commission” to Pope Francis and “the fruit of our work” will be communicated to him, the statement said. “We will propose initiatives to encourage local responsibility around the world and the mutual sharing of “best practices” for the protection of all minors, including programs for training, education, formation, and responses to abuse.”
O’Malley, reading the statement, said “We have also shared with Pope Francis how important certain areas are to us in our future work. We see ensuring accountability in the Church as especially important, including developing means for effective and transparent protocols and processes.”
Responding to questions, the Cardinal explained that “accountability is for everyone in the Church, irrespective of what their status is”. It includes those who perpetrate abuse against children and minors, and “those who are negligent in child protection”. And when asked about a case like that of the Italian Bishops Conference who in their recent draft norms state that bishops or priests are not bound by Italian law to denounce cases of abuse, the cardinal said “obviously accountability should not depend on legal obligation when we have moral responsibility”.
He confirmed that the Commission would make recommendations to Pope Francis on this crucial question of accountability, a question that involves bishops too. He also said that the expected the Commission to create working groups to focus on specific areas, and would draw in volunteers and experts. He told the press that Pope Francis told them that he was “very anxious for this group to be independent.” It would respond directly to him.
The Commission “will propose Statutes to the Holy Father to express more precisely” its “nature, structure, activity, and the goals”, the statement said. It clarified that “the Commission will not deal with individual cases of abuse, but we can make recommendations regarding policies for assuring accountability and best practice.”
In the Statutes, the Commission said, “we plan to make specific proposals regarding the importance of emphasizing ways for raising the awareness of all people regarding the tragic consequences of sexual abuse and of the devastating consequences of not listening, not reporting suspicion of abuse, and failing to support victims/survivors and their families.”
In answer to a question, O’Malley said that “some (in the Vatican) still think” that the problem of the abuse of children and minors by clergy “is a problem of the USA or Ireland or Germany, not one of the universal Church”, but he insisted this is not the case. He said a major effort at education and formation is required throughout the Church, and the Commission will seek to ensure that this happens.
Bishops Conferences worldwide have been asked to draw up guidelines and procedures for dealing with the abuse problem, and Fr Zoeller said that “almost all” have reported back, except those in the French speaking area of West Africa.
The Commission’ statement concluded by saying that “as the Catholic people make our parishes, schools, and institutions safe for all children, we join with people of good will in our endeavor to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are protected from abuse” It asked for the prayers of all who wish to support its work.
Cardinal O’Malley told the press that in their meeting “we have seen how many different issues have to be dealt with and how complex they are, so we need to prioritize and deal with these priorities”. He said they also need to work out a time frame for this. He confirmed that the Commission will meet again in a couple of months.