The commission set up by Pope Francis in March 2014 to advise him on preventing child sexual abuse is now making significant progress. A report published by the Vatican following the Sept. 8-11 plenary meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors reveals the role of members in educating Vatican personnel and church leadership in countries across the globe on their responsibility for the protection of children, adolescents and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse.
The report shows that commission members have already addressed meetings of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where the Holy See’s diplomats are trained, and the Congregation for Consecrated Life, which oversees religious orders and institutes of consecrated life worldwide. In the coming weeks, it will address a meeting of the Congregation for Clergy, as well as sessions for the training of new bishops (those appointed over the past year) organized by the Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples and for Bishops. Indeed, the fact that Marie Collins, a survivor of abuse, will address these latter sessions with other commission members is a real breakthrough at the level of the Vatican.
Moreover, it reports that commission members have sought to educate church leadership through talks and workshops, on all five continents. They went to Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Fiji, Argentina, Colombia, Santo Domingo, the United States, Ghana, Tanzania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Italy. In the coming months, they plan to do likewise in Mexico, Ecuador, the conference of major superiors of men in the United States and will hold a workshop for the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences.
Progress has been possible because the commission, which is headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, has the full backing of Pope Francis, who is determined to ensure the protection of children, minors and vulnerable people throughout the church, and to hold all bishops, heads of religious orders, congregations and Vatican officials fully accountable for this. He made this crystal clear in his motu proprio, “As a Loving Mother,” on June 4, which came into force on Sept 5. That decree contains new norms providing for the removal of bishops (or those equivalent to them in canon law) from their offices in cases where they have “through negligence, committed or omitted acts that have caused grave harm to others, either with regard to physical persons, or with regard to the community itself.”
The question of the accountability has been a major concern of the commission from the outset, and it made a proposal in this regard to the pope in February 2015. At its plenary meeting last week, it discussed and “welcomed” the pope’s response through the motu proprio.
It also welcomed the fact that Pope Francis has accepted another proposal of the commission that originally came from a survivor, requesting a Day of Prayer and Penance in dioceses across the world “for the survivors and victims of sexual abuse.” The commission in its report states its conviction that that “prayer is one part of the healing process for survivors and the community of believers” and that “public prayer is also an important way of consciousness raising in the church.”
In this regard, last July, the cardinal secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, sent a letter through the nuncios to all bishops’ conferences conveying the pope’s decision and asking them to choose an appropriate day for this initiative at the local level. The commission last week welcomed the fact that some bishops’ conferences, such as the Australian, had already taken steps to implement the proposal (it did so on Sept. 11), while the Southern African bishops’ conference would hold this event from Dec. 2-4, and currently the Philippines is discussing an appropriate date. The commission has prepared resources to help bishops’ conferences with this Day of Prayer.
In its report, the commission recalled that it works throughout the year, and prior to last week’s plenary session it met in small working groups to focus on the following assigned topics: guidelines, healing and care; education, formation, theology and spirituality; and canonical and civil norms.
The commission revealed, moreover, that it has already developed “a template for guidelines in the safeguarding and protection of children, adolescents and vulnerable adults,” which it will shortly present to Pope Francis for his consideration.
It concluded its report by announcing that in the coming months the commission will launch its own website, which, it hopes, “will be a useful resource for the church and all people of good will in our common goal, which is to make our church and our society a safe home for all.”
The commission will hold its next plenary meeting in Rome at the end of March 2017.