“It is crucial to bring the voice of the victims to the leaders of the church to make everyone understand how important it is for the church to give responses in a rapid and correct manner to every situation of abuse in whatever way it is manifested,” said Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley. The archbishop of Boston said this to Vatican News at the end of the ninth plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was held in Rome, Sept. 7 to 9.
The cardinal, who is president of the P.C.P.M. that was established by Pope Francis in 2014, added that “especially in the light of the present situation, if the church shows itself to be incapable of responding with all its heart and of making this theme a priority, then all our other activities of evangelization, works of charity and of education will feel it”—meaning the negative impact. “That must be the priority on which we concentrate now,” he stated.
Then, in what appeared to be a reference to the grand jury report of the abuse of minors in Pennsylvania and the abuse of a minor by the former cardinal archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal O’Malley said, “Recent events in the church have us all focused on the urgent need for a clear response on the part of the church for the sexual abuse of minors.”
“It is crucial to bring the voice of the victims to the leaders of the church.”
He explained that one of the responsibilities of P.C.P.M. is to listen to the victims, and so it invites survivors to address its plenary meetings. This time, he said, the commission heard from a woman from Latin America who was abused by a priest and from the mother of two adult victims from the United States. “The voice of the victims is truly important,” Cardinal O’Malley said.
He said P.C.P.M. members had also addressed a gathering of some new 200 bishops in Rome this past week, which was organized by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Evangelization of Peoples. The bishops were nominated by the pope over the past 12 months.
The cardinal said he had invited Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clergy abuse, to speak this year, as she had done on past occasions, but she was unable to attend this year’s event. She sent a video recorded message that was greatly appreciated. He said that bishops who had listened to her speak at previous conferences told him that hers was the intervention that touched them most of all.
“The Commission’s starting point is not to investigate abuses; our starting point is to prevent abuses.”
He highlighted the fact that the P.C.P.M. is developing instruments of verification for bishops’ conferences when they come on their five-yearly visits to the Holy See, by which they can show that they have created guidelines for the protection of minors and vulnerable persons that have been asked for by the pope and the Holy See.
A press statement released by the P.C.P.M. said members “reflected on the recent developments in the global church that have negatively affected so many people including victims/survivors, families and the community of faithful.” It said the questions raised in recent months “not only focus the public on the seriousness of abuse, they are an opportunity to call people to the mission of prevention so that the future will be different from our history.”
The statement underlined that “the Commission’s starting point is not to investigate abuses; our starting point is to prevent abuses.”
It underlined that one of the P.C.P.M.’s responsibilities is to work with survivors, and it is establishing pilot projects for this purpose in different countries, starting with Brazil, “as a mechanism to create safe spaces and transparent processes by which people who have been abused can come forward.”
P.C.P.M. members have participated in over 100 safeguarding workshops in churches in different countries as a way of helping the local church prevent abuse.
In 2019, the P.C.P.M. will sponsor a safeguarding conference for church leaders in Central and Eastern Europe. In April of that year, it will also work with the Brazilian bishops’ conference and offer a week of safeguarding formation for bishops and formators, in Aparecida, Brazil. In November 2019, P.C.P.M. members will address a meeting of the Latin America bishops in Mexico. In 2020, it will co-sponsor a congress on the protection of minors in the Americas in Bogotá, Colombia.
The statement said the commission will have meetings with the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Italian Bishops conference “to further collaborative efforts in the field of child protection.”
Pope Francis established the P.C.P.M. in 2014 to advise him on actions to be taken to combat the abuse of minors in the church and to assist bishops’ conferences worldwide in the work of safeguarding children and the prevention of abuse. He renewed the commission’s mandate in February of this year and appointed 16 members (eight men and eight women) from 15 countries, including survivors who asked that their identities not be made public.