Pope with Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors Pope with Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors 

Pope to Protection Commission: All abuse unacceptable

Addressing the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis requests an annual report on the Church's safeguarding initiatives to help competent authorities respond to allegations of abuse on the part of clergy, and praises the work being done by the Commission.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

Abuse in any form is unacceptable.

This was at the heart of Pope Francis' address Friday morning to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at the conclusion of their plenary meeting.

The Pope decried clerical sexual abuse and stressed the individual responsibility of each member of the Church to prevent abuse and work for justice and healing. The Holy Father also expressed his direct availability to the Commission, to ensure they maintain their freedom to help and act.

He also requested the Commission provide him with an annual report on the Church’s initiatives for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, in an effort to provide greater transparency and accountability.  

Commission’s direct access to Pope

In the long-awaited Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia Praedicate Evangelium published 19 March, the Pope gave the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors special importance and prominence with its placement under the responsibility of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

At the time, the President of the Commission, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, praised the decision to maintain the Commission "as a separate body within the Dicastery that enjoys direct access to the Holy Father and with its own leadership and staffing."  

Welcoming the Commission, the Pope thanked Cardinal O’Malley and all its members for their commitment to protecting children, saying "thanks to your efforts, minors and vulnerable persons are safer in the Church."

Church must prove completely trustworthy

The Pope reminded the Commission that the service entrusted to them must be carried out with care.  

“Constant attention is required of the Commission so that the Church may not only be a safe place for minors and a place of healing, but may prove completely trustworthy in promoting their rights worldwide.”

The Pope decried situations that continue to exist where the dignity of children is threatened. "This must be a source of concern for all the faithful and for all people of good will."

Abuses against children are grave and permanent

The Pope went on to deplore the everlasting effects of sexual abuse.

“Abuse in any form is unacceptable. The sexual abuse of children is particularly grave, as an offence against a life that is just beginning to flower. Instead of flourishing, one who is abused is deeply injured, at times permanently.”

The Holy Father recalled a letter from a father whose son had been abused and as a result for many years could not even leave his room, decrying how profound the effects were on the son and also the family. “Those who were abused sometimes feel almost trapped between life and death. These are realities that, painful as they are, we cannot take away,” he insisted.

The Pope encouraged them to continue "diligently and courageously making these wounds known." He said this involves seeking out those who are still suffering, and recognizing in those persons the witness of our Saviour who suffered.

“This is the road that all of us must take: bishops, religious superiors, priests, deacons, consecrated persons, catechists and lay faithful. Each member of the Church, in accord with his or her proper state, is called to assume responsibility for preventing cases of abuse and to work for justice and for healing.”

Never lose your freedom

Speaking about his having formally instituted the Commission as part of the Roman Curia, within the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope observed, “Someone might think that this could put at risk your freedom of thought and action, or even take away importance from the issue with which you deal." 

“That is not my intention, nor is it my expectation," he said. "And I invite you to be watchful that this does not happen.”

“I have made your leadership and personnel distinct, and you will continue to relate directly with me through your President Delegate.”

The Holy Father called on them “to propose better methods to enable the Church to protect minors and vulnerable persons and to assist the healing of survivors, in the recognition that justice and prevention are complementary. Indeed, your service provides a proactive and prospective vision of the best practices and procedures that can be implemented in the entire Church.”

A new beginning with Apostolic Constitution

The Pope said important seeds have been sown, even if "yet much remains to be done."

“The Apostolic Constitution marks a new beginning.  It is your responsibility to expand the scope of this mission in such a way that the protection and care of those who have experienced abuse may become normative in every sector of the Church’s life.  Your close collaboration with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and with other Dicasteries ought to enrich your work, while your work can enrich in turn that of the Curia and the local Churches."  

Speaking off-the-cuff, the Pope emphasized the Commission's independence.

“Even if the Commission on the Roman Curia diagram is part of the Dicastery, it is independent, with a president nominated by the Pope. Independent.”

The duty to protect the young and the vulnerable, the Pope suggested, "is grounded in the conception of the human person in his or her intrinsic dignity, with special concern for the most vulnerable," and requires concrete collaboration.

Factor of transparency so authorities can act

The Holy Father expressed appreciation that seeds that have been sown are starting to bear good fruit, noting, "Cases of the abuse of minors by members of the clergy have decreased for several years now in those parts of the world where data and reliable resources are available."  

“I would like you, on an annual basis, to prepare for me a report on the Church’s initiatives for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. This might be difficult at the beginning, but I ask you to begin where necessary, in order to furnish a reliable account on what is presently being done and what needs to change, so that the competent authorities can act.”

This report, the Pope said, "will be a factor of transparency and accountability and – I hope – will provide a clear audit of our progress in this effort." 

Without that progress, the Pope recognized, "the faithful will continue to lose trust in their pastors, and preaching and witnessing to the Gospel will become increasingly difficult."

Assisting Bishops conferences

Addressing "immediate needs" for the welfare and pastoral care of persons who have experienced abuse, the Pope said he has followed with interest the ways that the Commission has always provided opportunities for listening and encounter with victims and survivors, saying they have helped him in his pastoral mission.

"For this reason," he said, "I urge you to assist Conferences of Bishops--and this is very important: to help and surveillance, in dialogue with the bishops' conferences' --in establishing suitable centres where individuals who have experienced abuse, and their family members, can find acceptance and an attentive hearing, and be accompanied in a process of healing and justice."

“Don't forget the Summit we had almost three years ago with the presidents of the [world's] bishops' conferences. They have to set up the commissions and all the means to carry out the processes for taking care of the abused with all the methods you have and also those for punishing the abusers. You must supervise this. I insist. Please.”

Pope Francis concluded by offering his heartfelt thanks for their work. “You are in my prayers and I ask you to keep me in your own.  Thank you!  May God continue to pour out upon you his abundant blessings,” he said.

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29 April 2022, 13:01