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Gerard O’ConnellMarch 15, 2024
Left: Pope Francis shakes hands with Teresa Kettelkamp at the Vatican March 7, 2024, during a meeting with members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Right: Pope Francis shakes hands with Bishop Luis Manuel Alí Herrera at the Vatican March 7, 2024 (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis has appointed a Colombian bishop to be the new secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and a woman from the United States as adjunct secretary.

In a significant move aimed at boosting and strengthening the role and functioning of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis has appointed a Colombian bishop, Luis Manuel Alí Herrera, 56, to be its new secretary, and a lay woman, Teresa Morris Kettelkamp, former executive director of the U.S .Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, to be its adjunct secretary.

The Vatican broke the news on March 15. Earlier, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., who has been president of the commission since Pope Francis established it on March 22, 2014, announced the new appointments at an executive session of the commission on Friday afternoon, March 8.

This is the first time the commission has had a bishop as its secretary, and a woman as adjunct secretary (which is a new post). Both are already members of the commission, and have wide experience in the field of child protection.

Bishop Alí, a psychologist, has been auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Bogotá since 2015, and secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Colombia since 2022. He succeeds the English-born priest, Andrew Small, O.M.I., who has been secretary pro tempore of the commission since June 2021. The first secretary of the commission was Msgr. Robert Oliver from Boston, who served as secretary from 2014 to 2021.

Bishop Alí will take up his new post in Rome in May. But Ms. Kettelkamp, who takes up the new position of adjunct secretary, will continue to reside in the United States.

Commenting on the appointment, Cardinal O’Malley said: “Today’s announcement marks a further important step in making our church an ever-safer place for children and vulnerable persons.” He thanked Bishop Ali Herrera and Ms. Morris-Kettelkamp “for their willingness to serve the Holy Father and the Church at this important time in the life of the Commission.”

“Coming from different backgrounds and possessing unique gifts in safeguarding, Bishop Ali and Teresa share a common passion for the well-being of children and vulnerable people, with lifetimes of service to the Church in this important area,” he said. “They bring both stability to the Commission’s agenda and a high degree of professionalism to their new roles.”

Cardinal O’Malley recalled that Bishop Ali “is currently the longest serving member of the commission and has been an advocate for child protection in Latin America for many years. As Secretary General of the Bishops Conference in his native Colombia, he recently oversaw the finalization of updated national guidelines.”

Speaking of Ms. Kettelkamp, he said, “after a career in law enforcement at the highest levels, Teresa ran one of the largest national safeguarding offices in the church in the United States.”

“As members of the commission for many years,” he said, “they reflect a strong focus on continuity of the work and agenda of the commission since its expansion in 2022. They are well known among the community of safeguarding professionals, and I am confident they will bring a team-based approach to our common work since the commission was formally incorporated into the Roman Curia by the Holy Father in the Apostolic Constitution 'Praedicate Evangelium.’”

Cardinal O’Malley concluded by paying tribute to Father Small: “With vision and tenacity, Father Small has helped realize several important initiatives that the commission has embraced.” He praised him especially for “the establishment of the Memorare Initiative, which provides capacity building in safeguarding to poorer parts of the church.” He also commended him for the “additional staff and new offices [that] have allowed the commission to expand its welcome and outreach to victims and survivors, their families and communities as well as church leadership, which has greatly impacted access to information about safeguarding at a local level.”

A change of secretary had been rumored to be coming in Rome for almost a year. There were a number of reasons for this. First, tensions were reported within the commission regarding leadership, transparency in decision-making, finances and other issues that led to the resignation of Hans Zollner S.J., one of the commission’s founding members, on March 29, 2023.

Second, eyebrows were raised in Rome following a New York Times report on the commission’s move from cramped offices in the Vatican to a new headquarters in a 16th-century palazzo in Rome, not far from the Pantheon. Third, concern grew even more in Rome as questions were raised in the international media relating to the commission secretary’s involvement in seemingly questionable financial matters relating to his previous work in the Pontifical Missions Society in the United States. While this had nothing to do with the commission as such, it did involve its secretary. All this was seen as “a distraction” from the good functioning of the commission.

Bishop Alí was born in the seaport city of Barranquilla, Colombia, in 1967, and attended the Conciliar Seminary of Bogotá and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992. He has degrees in theology from the Pontifical University Javeriana of Bogotá and a degree in psychology from the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome. He was the director of the Psychological Orientation Area at the Conciliar Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bogotá (2007–15), where he also taught psychology of human development, social psychology and pastoral psychology. He is a senior associate of the Colegio Colombiano de Psicólogos (Colombian School of Psychologists).

He was already a member of the commission when Pope Francis nominated him auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Bogotá in 2015. He was appointed secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Colombia in 2022, the same year that Francis reappointed him a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Ms. Kettelkamp was born in Chicago, Ill., in 1952, and after earning a degree in political science from Quincy University, she joined the Illinois State Police, from which she retired after 29 years with the rank of colonel. At the time of her retirement, she headed the I.S.P.’s Division of Forensic Services: crime labs and crime scene services. Previously, she headed the I.S.P.’s Division of Internal Investigation, as well as serving in the agencies, boards and commissions under the executive branch of Illinois state government.

She retired from the state police for the purpose of working for the Gavin Group, Inc., in conducting the first annual compliance audits of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. She was appointed the executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005. She resigned from the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection in 2011 to do consulting work.

In January 2016, Ms. Kettelkamp moved to Rome to work for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, where she focused on universal guidelines for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, as well the healing and care for victims and survivors. She is an expert in policies and guidelines for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

In 2018, Pope Francis appointed her as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, where she served as moderator for the working group focused on the healing of survivors as well as integrating their voices into the ministry of the church. In 2022, he reappointed her a member of the commission.

The P.C.P.M. was originally established as a body independent of the Roman Curia, but the Curia’s new constitution, “Praedicate Evangelium,” promulgated by Pope Francis on March 19, 2022, placed the commission “within” the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and “charged [it] with providing guidance and advice to the Roman Pontiff, as well as proposing the most appropriate measures for safeguarding minors and vulnerable persons.”

It said the commission “assists diocesan/eparchial Bishops, Episcopal Conferences and the hierarchical structures of the Eastern Churches, and the Superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and their Conferences, in developing guidelines that propose suitable strategies and procedures for protecting minors and vulnerable persons from sexual abuse and provide an appropriate response to such conduct on the part of the clergy and members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in accordance with canonical norms and in due consideration of the requirements of civil law.”

Its members—currently 15 in number—are appointed by the pope for a period of five years, and “are chosen from among clerics, members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and lay men and women of various nations who are distinguished for their expertise, proven ability and pastoral experience.” The commission “is presided [over] by a President Delegate and a Secretary” appointed by the pope for a term of five years. Moreover, the commission “has its own officials and carries out its work in accordance with its own approved norms.”

The commission’s website reported on its plenary meeting on March 5-8, presided over by Cardinal O’Malley. It said the commission finalized the Pilot Annual Report on Safeguarding Policies and Procedures in the church and approved its submission to the Holy Father. It approved an expanded version of the Universal Guidelines Framework, and welcomed Pope Francis’ endorsement of the Memorare Initiative capacity-building program in the Global South and expanded engagement with local churches. Finally, it gave the green light to a high level study group on the issue of vulnerable adults and their safeguarding in church entities. Bishop Alí, as secretary, will now take this work forward.

Correction: Teresa Morris Kettelkamp’s last name was misspelled in a previous version of this report.

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