Protection of minors. The work of the Pontifical Commission
When Pope Francis created the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014, he issued a Chirograph that included a threefold mandate for us working there. The first, to advise the Holy Father; the second, to provide service to bishops and local churches; and third, to integrate the voice of victims into the ministry of child protection (safeguarding).
The first aspect as advisors is for us to identify the most significant priorities for the Pope and the dicasteries of the Holy See. This is done in a series of projects, meetings and seminars that our expert members follow in consultation with the offices of the Roman Curia. However, the Pontifical Commission is not responsible for implementing these measures or overseeing the various stages of their implementation.
To date, the Commission has offered to the Holy Father several proposals which have promoted revisions to existing legislation. In December 2019, Pope Francis promulgated changes to canonical norms on abuse cases - raising the age for child pornography offenses to 18 - and the exclusion of abuse cases from the pontifical secret. In March of the same year, he then instituted mandatory reporting to civil authorities in the Vatican City State and proposed mandatory reporting for the entire Church in Vos Estis Lux Mundi. Back in 2018, the Pope called on all local churches to adopt “zero tolerance” policies toward child abuse, in his Letter to Bishops published on the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
The second area of our mandate is to support local churches so that safeguarding becomes an integral part of evangelistic work in any context. We are in contact with local leadership, meet with bishops on their visits ad limina, and have ongoing relationships with the church in that specific geographical area. Since its inception, members of the Commission have participated in more than 450 safeguarding events around the world, and ascertained the varying degrees of awareness, knowledge and capacity to respond to the child protection needs of local churches.
Out of this work has emerged a proposal to the Commission and the Holy Father for a global meeting of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences, leading to the February 2019 summit on child protection. There were many among the observers who have pointed to this as a turning point for the Church in its response to the sexual abuse crisis. However, it would be more accurate to see it as a starting point. This, as the Pope has emphasized, requires pastoral conversion. The journey of conversion must be constantly permeated by the third aspect of our mandate, which is to listen and respond to victims and survivors of abuse. This is our “priority principle”.
Brazil is a case in point. Since his appointment to the commission in 2018, Nelson Giovanelli Rosando dos Santos has worked using the Survivor Advisory Panel (SAP) model of including the voices of victims and survivors in safeguarding and victim assistance decisions implemented by church leaders. In addition, in Brazil, training sessions have been offered for diocesan, congregational leadership and lay movements on the risks and impact of abuse from the perspective of victims and survivors. The Brazilian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CNBB) created a special commission for the protection of children and adolescents, headed by Bishop José Negri. Together with the Conference of Religious Superiors, it then established the Centro Nucleo Lux Mundi, directed by Dr. Eliane de Carli, to assist in the creation of diocesan frameworks, the implementation of prevention policies, the handling of abuse complaints, and assistance to victims.
In India, Sister Arina Gonsavles Rjm, worked to open the first offices for safeguarding, welcoming and listening to victims and survivors in Asia and on September 8, 2021 in Mumbai inaugurated the Catholic Bishops Conference National Safeguarding Center. In the Philippines, Professor Gabby Dy-Liacco founded the first Catholic Safeguarding Institute in 2020, which aims to develop a network of child advocates for the Church in Asia. In Zambia, Sister Kayula Lesa has organized a local SAP. One of the commission's working groups is going to publish a practical guide for bishops and religious superiors to respond pastorally to the abuse crisis. The papal commission also offered its support for the creation of commissions, offices and SAP in the Americas (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico), Africa (Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, AMECEA), and Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia). There is undoubtedly still much to do. More attention is now being paid to the abuse of vulnerable people, but we need clearer definitions of the term ‘vulnerable’ under the law. The accountability of church leaders has become a major topic, but to track progress we need a means of measuring the implementation of safeguarding factors, and those parts of the world that have not yet implemented a comprehensive safeguarding program need the resources necessary to do so.
By Emer McCarthy
Project manager of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors