By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Members of the Vatican Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) issued a statement on Tuesday, just one day after Pope Francis’ letter to all the People of God.
The Commission begins by saying it is encouraged by Pope Francis’ letter and thanked him for “his strong words recognizing the pain and suffering endured by people who have suffered sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by some members of the church”.
Zero tolerance and accountability
In addition, they state that “members of the Commission feel supported by the Holy Father’s call…to ‘implement zero tolerance’ ” and to make accountable “ ‘those who perpetrate or cover up’ ” crime. The PCPM said that they heard reinforced in Pope Francis' letter their own message that “zero tolerance and accountability are a pre-requisite in safeguarding vulnerable people from abuse”.
Abuse of power
Commission member and canon lawyer Prof. Myriam Wijlens summarized Pope Francis’ letter into three points. The first is the clearly expressed “connection between sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience” which, Prof Wijlens says, “many do not want to see connected". Second, is that the abuse of power has two levels: “There are those who use their position to sexually abuse minors and vulnerable adults and…those in leadership positions” who cover the abuse up.
Children's safety comes first
The third point Prof. Wijlens write of is that a looking backward approach consisting of “asking for pardon and seeking repair” is not sufficient. The approach that looks forward “implies asking for a radical change of culture where the safety of children enjoys top priority”. She says that the Church’s reputation requires “putting the safety of children first”, a task requiring “radical change” which “the clergy alone will not be able to bring about”. Thus the need for “humility” and of asking for and receiving “help from the whole community”, Prof. Wijlens concludes.