Fr. Small: Protection Commission implementing abuse prevention measures worldwide
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
"I think we're into a phase now of what I call the can-do Commission. It's the one that knows how to put these measures, and certainly prevention measures, in place."
Father Andrew Small, OMI, Secretary pro tempore of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, expressed this consideration to Vatican News during a meeting with journalists on the work of the Plenary Session of the Commission.
The Commission holds Plenaries in Rome twice a year.
The Commission itself
In late September, the Holy Father appointed ten new members to the Commission, seven women and three men. They are joined by nine members who have been reappointed, plus one member who was appointed to a three-year term last year.
Half of the members of the Commission are men and half are women, with six members hailing from Asia/Oceania, six from Europe, four from the Americas, and four from Africa.
The Commission is composed of 10 members who are lay faithful, three bishops, three religious sisters, two priests, and two members of other Christian Churches.
Commission members include experts in canon law, social work, the medical and psychological professions, law enforcement and the judiciary, as well as pastoral experts who currently work in dioceses and religious congregations. Many of the members, according to Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, the Commission's President, have spent significant amounts of their professional lives listening to and supporting victim/survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and Church personnel.
Independence and reports to the Pope
In his April 2022 address to the Pontifical Commission, Pope Francis affirmed its independence as it works ever more closely with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, informing the work of the Dicastery, the Curia and vice-versa.
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."
On this point, the Pope insisted, “I have made your leadership and personnel distinct, and you will continue to relate directly with me through your President Delegate.”
The Holy Father also called on them to assist Bishops' Conferences to combat the phenomenon of clerical sexual abuse at a local level by setting up adequate and effective reporting structures, and to submit a local annual report to him to offer accountability and transparency.
To be trustworthy, the Church must be credible, the Pope insisted, as he entrusted the Commission to go forth in their mission to safeguard and effectuating these elements concretely.
Learning from experience about worldwide phenomenon
"As the Commission is coming up on ten years, next year," Fr. Small observed in the interview, "it had its very tense moments and difficulties and those have been moments of confrontation with others. I would say the hard work [has been] breaking up the ground of those who would say the problem is not that big or the problem is limited to certain parts of the world."
Implementation of measures, amid a more accepting landscape
The Commission's Secretary affirmed that the Church is putting in place measures to prevent abuse in all dioceses across the world.
"That we now have the acceptance that measures need to be put in place everywhere," he noted, "in a way that is different than the landscape ten years ago," where some considered it a "very limited problem."
Fr. Small expressed that at this point in time, the professionals serving the Commission know how to put these and other prevention measures in place.
"If the ground has been broken up," he said, "I think it's incumbent on those of us who know that ground, to put the services in place, and the Commission is very excited about that...that the Holy Father has called them.
Advising the Successor of Peter on Protecting Minors
That the Holy Father has entrusted the Commission with this work, and offered them a unique, direct dialogue, he expressed, is particularly significant and perhaps unprecedented.
"We had a whole reflection on the Narrow Gate, in the [liturgical] readings recently. The idea that they are there, they have been asked to advise Peter on how to get through the Narrow Gate is a sort of a very strong calling for them, and they feel very honoured and very committed to that task."
Charging forward with Pope-requested comprehensive report
On Friday, in the Holy See Press Office, Father Small responded to journalists' questions, where he confirmed that the Commission is charging ahead with their task to prepare the detailed report the Pope requested of them.
Realistically, to be precise and comprehensive, Fr. Small said he expects to see a blueprint in 2023, and the actual report in 2024.
He noted it will be broken up into four sections, and to become as comprehensive and useful of a tool as possible.
The Commission Secretary confirmed the report will be submitted directly to the Holy Father.
Fr. Small mentioned that the Commission was able to invest in the most-qualified experts to collaborate with them, given they were provided with adequate resources to ensure that no corners be cut on such an important area.
To his understanding, the Commission has been given a similar-sized budget as the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith's disciplinary section, which enables them to pursue their efforts effectively.
Fr. Small also affirmed the significance of the Commission being given a supervisory role, which previously did not belong to them.
Missionary Church needs resources and training
The Commission Secretary also highlighted the continuing challenge to combat the phenomenon of abuse worldwide.
Recalling that the 'Mission Church' and the Global South lack the resources and formation as in other parts of the world, he stressed that concrete measures are being contemplated and implemented to bridge this gap, as he pointed out that the United States alone spent some 25 million dollars last year alone just in training.