The Catholic Church “has a Gospel mandate to promote the protection of children.”
This is according to psychiatrist Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, who spoke with ZENIT days after the launching of the Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Announced last December, the Commission was officially launched March 22, at which time the names of its first eight members were released.
The members of the Commission, which is largely comprised of laypersons of various backgrounds and professions, will be tasked with advising the Holy See on matters pertaining to youth protection.
Having worked as a psychiatrist with priests who have been convicted of abusing minors, Monsignor Rossetti also specializes in the relationship between spiritual and psychological wellbeing in the priestly life.
In an interview with ZENIT, he spoke about the newly launched Commission, and the Church’s role in promoting youth protection worldwide.
ZENIT: What would you say are the aims of this Commission?
Rossetti: First, I think the Commission’s going to have a broad responsibility for setting and advising the Holy Father on policy for the Church, so it’s going to be important. We shouldn’t underestimate that the central function of this Commission will be to advise the Holy Father on the whole Church’s policy on child protection. And I think we should stress this: [it is] not simply on child abuse but child protection, which is a broader issue of prevention which is so key.
ZENIT: At this point, the primary focus of the Commission is the protection of minors from clerical sex abuse. Do you see its role going beyond that?
Rossetti: I’m hoping so. Obviously we have to start by getting our own house in order. We can’t very well preach something when we’re not doing it well ourselves. So the first thing we need to do is to get our own house in order worldwide, and to deal with this tragedy well.
But then, I believe, that the Church has a Gospel mandate to promote the protection of children. It’s not simply good enough for us to do well – although that’s a great start – but we need to be proponents. The Church needs to be the vocal voice of the children and the protection of children. Jesus is very clear about that: “Let the children come unto me.” The Kingdom belongs to the children.
ZENIT: The Church already has a certain number of policies and mechanisms in place to protect minors. What else can this Commission add?
Rossetti: I think we should look at the Church around the world… There are many countries that have done a strong job of changing their approach and actually instituting good child-safe policies, but there are other countries that have not really started this – not just the Church, but their societies as well. We can’t think that the entire world is on board with this issue, because many countries are really beginning.
We should, first of all, look at what some countries have done – and done well. I’m disappointed in the media which, at times, has not affirmed when the Church has actually instituted some good policies. I think the Holy Father mentioned that, and I think he was right: at times the Church, in some countries, has made some great strides forward, and we should affirm them for that, encourage them a bit more. But there are other countries that haven’t. One of the important functions of the Commission will be to say this is not just a policy for the US or for Britain or for Australia or for Canada: these are policies for the world. So, the Commission needs to begin to standardize protocols around the world, but make them sensitive to different cultural realities.
ZENIT: One of the activities suggested by Fr. Lombardi’s statement pertains to the discipline of offenders. What sort of jurisdiction will this Commission have?
Rossetti: First of all, it’s very clear that the Commission will not adjudicate individual cases. Those cases, right now, go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That’s their responsibility.
This Commission, however, has a very important function when it comes to policy, and in helping the Church to set policy. All the Congregations advise the Holy Father. Of course, the Holy Father has the ultimate jurisdiction. But I would say it’s clear this Commission is going to have the Holy Father’s ear. He’s made it independent rather than having it fall under a Congregation. The obvious head [of the Commission] is certainly de facto Cardinal Sean O’Malley: we all know the Holy Father trusts his advice. I think we’re going to see that this Commission has an important mission in the Holy Father’s mind.
I would say another thing: We’re at a time of reorganization of the Vatican dicasteries, and it looks like there’s going to be some reorganization, and maybe some streamlining. In a time of streamlining, and financial challenges, the Holy Father has swam upstream with this one. He’s actually expanded the Vatican, spending more money, and creating more structure, because this case of child protection is so important to him that he’s willing to change his general focus and trend with the Vatican Curia and to start something new and expend more resources.
[Part 2 will be published Tuesday]