Pontifical Commission given mandate to implement child protection in Church
By Thaddeus Jones
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors just concluded its Seventh Ordinary Plenary Assembly, culminating in an audience with Pope Francis on Friday morning. Following that meeting with Pope Francis, the Commission's president and Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., met with journalists to recount the recent days' events.
Together with him was Fr. Andrew Small, O.M.I., Secretary of the Commission. Also present were Members Nelson Giovanelli Rosendo dos Santos of Brazil, an expert in the rehabilitation of youth from drug addiction and abuse; and Juan Carlos Cruz of Chile, a communications executive and global advocate for survivors of clerical abuse, both who recently visited Ukraine to assist in dealing with the crisis of unaccompanied children fleeing Ukraine and assuring their protection. Both spoke about that experience and their work on the Commission and great hopes for its future work given its new role.
Child protection priority
Cardinal O’Malley explained how the new Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium shows how Pope Francis has placed the importance of child protection at the core of the Church’s central government. In this way also Pope Francis “has given the Commission a very clear mandate to animate the entire Church from within the Roman Curia on the subject of child protection.”
Pope Francis formally has instituted the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors as part of the Roman Curia, within the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. In speaking to the leadership, staff and members of the Commission, the Pope made it clear that the autonomy of the Commission remains, but that it was also necessary to anchor it to an appropriate Vatican office since it could not remain a type of satellite entity.
A mandate with autonomy
Cardinal O’Malley noted that this autonomy is also meant to ensure the integrity of the Commission’s expertise and the full freedom to give advice to the Pope on these delicate matters. The Cardinal also recalled how the Pope emphasized how abuse survivors must receive “a welcome and an open door when they appeal to the local church in their country.” And this needs to be a priority throughout the Church. He said the Commission will be working to do so by encouraging local churches to establish survivor support services at the national level, as called for in the Pope’s Motu Proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi.
Cardinal O’Malley also mentioned how Pope Francis wants the Commission to take on the responsibility “to supervise, promote, encourage and report back to him on the progress that is made in fulfilling the mandates in Vos Estis.
Fr. Andrew Small, O.M.I., highlighted three important outcomes and mandates for the Commission’s work.
Reports directly to the Pope
First, he underscored the autonomy of the Commission’s work, although it will come under the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The President of the Commission is appointed by the Pope and reports directly to him, without filters. At the same time, the Vatican department deals with matters pertaining to doctrine, morals and justice, and so became the logical choice to place the Commission, especially as it has a proactive vision of child dignity and protection of vulnerable persons.
Second, Fr. Small explained how Pope Francis has asked the Commission to present an annual report on the status of safeguarding children, looking at policies and procedures and how guidelines are being implemented. The primary competency of the Commission is to offer these guidelines and monitor implementation throughout Church entities (dioceses, bishops conferences, religious orders…), not to deal with individual cases. Fr. Small noted how Pope Francis gave them a mandate to supervise this process, to encourage and animate, and to highlight this work in their annual report. It’s about transparency and accountability.
Church welcome centres
Finally, Fr. Small spoke about the Commission’s mandate now to implementing that called for in Vos Estis Lux Mundi, in particular the creation of local church centres where abuse survivors can be welcomed, heard and helped. Pope Francis emphasized this aspect in his address to them, so 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.