New Commission for the Protection of Children: Boston cardinal, abuse survivor among members

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, four women—including a survivor of clerical sex abuse—two Jesuit priests and an Italian lawyer are the first eight members of the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Pope Francis established the commission in December; announcing the first members March 22, the Vatican said they would help define the tasks and competencies of the commission and help identify other potential members.


Cardinal O'Malley is also one of eight members of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on the reform of the Roman Curia and governance of the church. When the child protection commission was announced, Cardinal O'Malley told reporters it would take a pastoral approach to helping victims and preventing abuse, given that much of the Vatican's attention thus far had been on implementing policies and legal procedures for investigating allegations of abuse and punishing guilty priests.

The cardinal said the commission would look at programs to educate pastoral workers in signs of abuse, identify means of psychological testing and other ways of screening candidates for the priesthood, and make recommendations regarding church officials' "cooperation with the civil authorities, the reporting of crimes."

The first eight members of the commission include Marie Collins, who was born in Dublin. At the age of 13, she was sexually abused by a Catholic priest who was a chaplain at a hospital where she was a patient.

Addressing a major conference in Rome in 2012 on the protection of children, she said being abused led to depression, despair and deep loss of trust in the Catholic Church. "Those fingers that would abuse my body the night before, were the same fingers that would give me holy Communion the following day," she said.

In 1997, the priest that had abused her—and other young girls over a period of three decades—was finally brought to justice. She founded an organization to help victims of sexual abuse, worked with the Archdiocese of Dublin to set up its child protection office and helped draft the child protection policies of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the commission would take "a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large."

"In this way, and with the help of God, this commission will contribute to the Holy Father's mission of upholding the sacred responsibility of ensuring the safety of young people," Father Lombardi said.

Jesuit Fathers Hans Zollner and Humberto Yanez, who also were appointed to the commission, were instrumental in organizing the 2012 conference where Collins addressed representatives of bishops' conferences and religious orders from around the world.

Father Zollner, a German psychologist and psychotherapist, chaired the committee that organized the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University and is chairman of the steering committee of the Center for Child Protection that developed out of the conference. Father Yanez, director of the moral theology department at the Gregorian, was a member of the conference's theological board.

Meeting reporters in 2013 to discuss follow-up to the conference, Father Zollner said: "Unfortunately, the matter will be with us for a long time. The church is working much more than people know, but is also the object of criticism because of its errors, its failures and the sins of the past. This is why it is extremely important to continue the work of prevention with every available means."

In addition to Collins, the other women on the commission are: Hanna Suchocka, a former professor of law, who served as prime minister of Poland, 1992-93, and Polish ambassador to the Vatican, 2001-13; Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychiatrist specializing in helping victims of incest; and Baroness Sheila Hollins, a mental health specialist who has focused her research on people with learning disabilities.

The eighth member of the commission is Claudio Papale, an Italian who holds degrees in both civil and canon law and works in disciplinary section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The office is responsible for investigating allegations against priests.

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David Pasinski
4 years ago
This is an encouraging start. I would hope Pope Francis even sooner meets with some victims groups and Rev. Tom Doyle might be considered in the future since his contributions and criticisms were seminal and he has credibility with many groups and has been a helpful critic-which also may dom any such role on the commission.
David Pasinski
4 years ago
I have just read Tom Doyle's critique in the National Catholic Reporter. I think it has some merit, but I want to still reamin hopeful... and I still wish he would be one of the gadflies and periti to be appointed... and that he would accept.
Tim O'Leary
4 years ago
I also read Tom Doyle's article. He should be holding his knee-jerk criticism at least until he sees what happens. And I strongly disagree with his statement that "Child protection in the future and seminary training are peripheral." It is fine to want retribution for the perpetrators and enablers but irresponsible to not keep prevention of future evil top of mind.
Rosemary McHugh
4 years ago
The commission for the protection of minors is a good start, especially because there are 4 women and a victim of clergy sexual abuse included. I am also delighted to see that the commission will not be under the CDF, and will be able to report directly to the pope. My concern, as a physician who has met many who have been sexually abused by priests, and as one who was sexually assaulted myself by a Carmelite priest when I was a young doctor in Dublin, is that Pope Francis does not seem to want the predators to be subject to civil law. If Pope Francis was willing for Archbishop Wesolowski, his papal nuncio who he is protecting, to return to Poland and the Dominican Republic to face charges of sexually abusing young boys in both countries, I would have some hope that the pope will make predators face civil and international law for their crimes. However, if Pope Francis wants to continue to be his own law and to have canon law replace civil and international law, then I do not see that there is the accountability needed for change to occur. It is the police, not the church, who have to investigate the crimes and the criminals of the church. Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D., M.B.A., M.Spir., Chicago, Illinois,USA
Tim O'Leary
4 years ago
Rosemary - I think it is much better to have the Vatican investigate and prosecute (if guilty, as seems probable) Archbishop Wesolowski for at least 3 reasons. 1. The Dominican Republic's Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito only decided to seek an investigation after the Vatican already initiated one. Why didn't they begin this earlier? And why are there havens in the DR capital where such sex can be bought in the DR (as the reports claim the crimes occurred)? Why don't the DR police shut these places down and imprison the pimps? If we care about all victims, we need better accountability in the secular governments as much as in the Church, as the vast amount of sex abuse is outside the Church. 2. This case is possibly a perfect chance for the Vatican to show it can adjudicate and prosecute a serious crime, such as this. A swift investigation and prosecution (or release, if the Archbishop is innocent - if we are allowed to still hold to the maxim of "innocent until proven guilty") would set an important precedent. Also, if there is to be a financial settlement, at least the lawyers will not get nearly half-of it, as in the USA. It should all go to the victims, and the lawyers should only get their pay for the hours they put in. 3. The reports, if true, of a subversive gay lobby in the Vatican is horrendous and hypocritical and the claims of financial malfeasance are also very bad (if hard-earned donated funds are wasted). It is high time for the Vatican to fix its governance and show to the world it can manage its affairs like a modern government. The Church is protected from doctrinal error but there was no promise that they would govern like saints, and history right up to the present confirms they are as inefficient as many secular governments, or worse.
Anne Chapman
3 years 12 months ago
In other words, Tim, you still believe that bishops and other high level prelates are above civil law and should not be held accountable by the civil authorities in whose jurisdictions the crimes were committed. Crimes - just in case you miss the point. These were crimes that were committed in the Dominican Republic not in the Vatican. The Vatican is again stonewalling, refusing to extradite and let those who are responsible for investigating and judging criminal behavior in their own jurisdictions do so. The Vatican again appears to be protecting hierarchy at the expense of truth, at the expense of justice, and especially at the expense of children and young people. You are defending the systematic evasion of justice that has characterised the handling of sexual abuse of minors around the world. You again defend the men in Rome who are enabling a likely sexual predator avoid the criminal justice system. Perhaps Rome will at some point give him a slap on the fingers and you will call that "justice". I'm quite sure that if a local teacher abused your child and ran to another country to evade justice, you would support extradition back to this country. There was a case just like that in my town. The teacher escaped the US and went to Latin America. By a fluke he was recognized there and reported to the local police. They arrested him, the country cooperated and returned him to the US to face trial. He is now in prison. You continue to defend the indefensible. Have you ever asked yourself why you automatically offer this knee-jerk avoidance of truth when it comes to protecting men in Roman collars who obtain sex from kids? Are you so indoctrinated that youl can't see the truth that is in front of you? I know you will respond exactly as you always do. I had promised myself some time ago that I would no longer respond to any of your comments as it is not only an exercise in futility (you do know all, after all, and everyone who disagrees with you is, by definition, wrong and not a "real" Catholic), but that the exchanges will go on forever because you are one of those people who always has to have the last word. However, your blind loyalty to Rome and your obstinate refusal to support civil justice for criminals who wear Roman collars is a betrayal of Christ. So, against my better judgment, I have again responded. I continue to pray that someday you will see the light and realize that obeying Christ might mean sometimes divorcing yourself from what Rome sometimes does that damages the body of Christ.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 12 months ago
In other words, you see no reason to read what I say before you go on your typical personal attack even while you say you are praying for me. You really should calm down and see what I argued FOR in this post: "swiftly dealing with abusers or their enablers - principally getting them quickly to the police." and "It is high time for the Vatican to fix its governance." and "A swift investigation and prosecution...would set an important precedent." I want swift justice and tough sentencing for all enablers and pedophiles found guilty. I didn't even get into the extradition question for diplomats (it is Poland that is being discussed). And do you not seem to care that these so-called "Rent boys" are still being hired for sex every day, including probably today, under the very eyes of the Dominican police. (see what is being reported In the Dominican Republic, I want swift justice and tough sentencing for all pimps and pedophiles and want the prostitute business shut down by the police. But, you do not seem to care about any of that. Are you so indoctrinated in your anti-Catholicism that you are willing to ignore their plight just to rant on about the Vatican? I might add that I am glad that Marie Collins has been put onto this committee. She has been a very harsh critic of the bishops and the hierarchy and she will likely be very vocal if things get bogged down in Euro-bureaucracy. But, sadly, I expect the SNAP folks and you to turn on her if she claims any progress at all. In any case, thanks for your prayers, if you are being honest about that. God Bless.
Mike Evans
4 years ago
Apologies and reparations are still needed. Prosecution of those who molest children must proceed. But first and foremost, the screening and observation of those being formed in our seminaries and novitiates by supervisors and superiors who must be on the lookout for signs of deviant and suspicious behaviors, personality flaws, and general dispositions unsuitable for ordination or vows. Otherwise, the young and even older folk are defenseless, particularly against a priest or pastor who wields authority over them and dispenses the sacraments. We are now so understaffed as a church that it seems anyone willing to take a vow of celibacy and is physically male is called to ordination. We used to be far more selective. We need our best, not just a few survivors.
Tim O'Leary
4 years ago
This is an excellent committee, and seems well-balanced to get to the heart of the matter and ensure the optimal process for, in the following order of importance 1) protecting children going forward - the most important goal, 2) screening candidates for religious vocations and lay people who work with children to reduce the risk of future abuse as much as possible, 3) caring for victims of child abuse - as I suppose the evil can never be fully eradicated, and there are many victims already, 4) ensuring there are no enablers left in the governance of dioceses, and 5) swiftly dealing with abusers or their enablers - principally getting them quickly to the police.
David Pasinski
3 years 12 months ago
Agreed on Tom Doyle's critique...although I respect him immensely.
3 years 12 months ago

The basic problem underlying the church abuse scandal is Church governance. Canon law is crystal clear. It has simply not been enforced. Canon1395, P.2 mandates punishment for sexual abuse of the young, even to dismissal from the clerical state. Many bishops, for whatever mental gymnastics were at work, for example, to protect the name of the Church, transgressed the Church’s canon law and the dictates of natural law by not enforcing Canon 1395. No bishop has ever been punished, much less removed, for not enforcing this canon. This failure in church governance brought on this crisis by which trust and confidence in leadership officials were lost. Unpunished miscreant priests secretly assigned by their bishops to other posts continued their misdeeds and ultimately exponentially multiplied the numbers of abused young people. Canon 1389, p.2 provides that “One who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function which damages another person is to be punished with a just penalty.” That canon calls for punishment of a bishop, who does not punish an abuser priest subject to Canon 1395, p.2, This has not been done at the highest level – te papal level. New thinking is needed here. Cardinal Law, poster boy for secret transfers of miscreant priests and driven from Boston by his priests and people is welcomed in Rome by JP II, who retained him in governing agencies. Cardinal Rigali, excoriated by two Philadelphia grand juries, was allowed to retire and then appointed by B16 as his representative at an affair in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Rigali’s Vicar for Clergy, Msgr. Lynn goes to jail for following orders and policies of Rigali and his predecessor, Bevilaquila. Some new thinking is desperately needed!

Vincent Gaitley
3 years 11 months ago
If you are the victim of abuse just call the police. Don't bother calling anyone in the Church.


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