Protection Commission announces new strategies to safeguard against abuse

By Salvatore Cernuzio, 12 May 2023
Pope Francis speaks to members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors during its Plenary Assembly in the Vatican. Image: Vatican Media


As the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors’ plenary session in Rome comes to an end, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley says the Pope “has asked a lot from us, and we are all committed to making this work.”

A “new universal framework” to update Church guidelines; a fund with contributions from the Bishops’ Conferences for training and assistance to victims; partnership with the GHR Foundation for safeguarding programmes; strategies to combat online child abuse; an in-depth study on the issue of vulnerability in its various forms; and, a strategic plan to focus on the needs of victims and survivors and address them in the Church’s accountability mechanisms.

These new strategies represent the work carried out by members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors during its Plenary Assembly this week.

Members took time to analyse and elaborate on the work of the Commission’s ongoing and future work, in light of the Pope’s call for continued efforts to improve standards of conduct, and safeguard the Church from the horrendous crime of sexual abuse.

Pope’s encouragement

The Commission – established in 2014 and, with Praedicate Evangelium, placed within the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith – has brought to an end its plenary session, which began on 3 May, in Rome.

While there have been a number of resignations over the years, including recently, the Commission has been enriched by ten new members since November 2022. All the members, led by the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, were received on 5 May by Pope Francis, who denounced the “inability to act adequately to stop this evil and to assist its victims.”

The Holy Father also condemned “sins of omission”, saying that they are no less serious than the violence of abusers. He also asked the Commission not to be discouraged in its mission, “which represents a global vision of how the Church can become an ever safer place for all.”

Standing by the victims

“The Commission maintains that vision and firmly believes that promises must be coupled with verifiable changes within the Church that can demonstrate that young and vulnerable people are not at risk and how those who have been impacted by abuse are taken care of.”

The members of the Commission wrote these words in a press release published on Monday, in which they said they “welcome” the Pope’s words, as well as the confirmation of the Motu Proprio Vos estis lux mundi as a “permanent law”.

Updated guidelines

In light of these changes and renewed invitations, a number of changes, and what Cardinal President O’Malley calls “adjustments”, to the working methodology were introduced at the plenary.

First of all, the Church Guidelines, first issued in 2011 by the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, were updated. These – as Praedicate Evangelium calls for – require a focus on Church-wide safeguarding policies.

A ‘new Universal Guidelines Framework’ (UGF) has therefore been drafted and, available as of 31 May, will be submitted to Church leaders, victim groups and stakeholders for a public comment period before final approval later this year.

Fund with contributions from the Bishops’ Conferences

In line with the suggestions of the Pope, who praised the work of the Commission in removing inequalities in the poorest countries, where victims “suffer in silence” because they have no resources to denounce and obtain assistance, a fund made up of contributions from the Bishops’ Conferences has been set up.

The aim is to provide capacity building programmes to ensure greater access to training and assistance for victims, their families and communities in the poorest parts of the world. The pilot programme was signed with the Church in Rwanda, and the fund’s existence was safeguarded with a financial disbursement protocol to regulate the use of donated contributions as part of a capacity building programme. It will be known as Memorare.

Agreements with GHR and the Dicastery for Evangelisation

The Commission has also entered into several agreements. One is a partnership with the US-based GHR Foundation, beginning from December last year, to run a programme providing expert regional consultants in safeguarding. The Dicastery for Integral Human Development had already used a similar partnership with the GHR to assist the Church’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, GHR oversees the recruitment, contracting and direct payment of regional personnel. All the consultants were present at the plenary and also attended the audience with the Pope.

The other cooperation agreement is one signed on 21 April with the Dicastery for Evangelisation, to promote the goals of protection through the work of that Vatican office, which oversees the life of the Church in more than half of the world.

The plenary also commissioned “an in-depth study on the issue of vulnerability in its various forms, so as to equip Church entities with solid measures to combat this emerging area of abuse.”

Annual Report on Safeguarding Policies and Procedures

During the assembly, the framework for the Annual Report on Safeguarding Policies and Procedures in the Church, requested by the Pope in April 2022, was reviewed.

“The plan,” read the Commission’s press release, “adopts a human-centred design methodology that focuses on how the needs of victims and survivors can be prioritized and addressed in the Church’s reporting mechanisms with the purpose of offering proposals to the Holy Father on how gaps can be addressed.”

Other new features include work on a verification tool that will be used to “evaluate the adequacy of local churches safeguarding guidelines” and also strategies to promptly respond to Francis’ call to combat the evils of online child abuse.

Finally, a five-year strategic plan was proposed, identifying objectives, targets and performance indicators to measure progress and hold stakeholders accountable.

O’Malley: committed to achieving what the Pope asked for

“The Holy Father has asked a lot from us, and we are all committed to making this work,” says Cardinal O’Malley, stressing that these developments represent “a major shift towards a more impact-focused direction for the Commission.”

This new direction “has been both steep and fast for all of us,” he added. “This accelerated pace over the last six months has caused growing pains as we have tried to respond to both shorter and longer-term needs.”

In the plenary, “we developed key adjustments to our working methodology so as to clarify our different roles and to create a sense of common ownership of our mandate and of our collective responsibility for its implementation.”

“We have sought the necessary resources,” O’Malley concludes, “to respond appropriately, and we are confident in the plan we have laid out and the people we have working with us.”

With thanks to Vatican News and Salvatore Cernuzio, where this article originally appeared.


Read Daily
* indicates required