One of the unique features of the recently launched Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors, says psychiatrist Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, is the freedom given to the predominantly lay members to set its structure and agenda.
Monsignor Rossetti, a faculty member of Catholic University of America who specializes in the relationship between spiritual and psychological wellbeing in the priestly life, was speaking in an interview with ZENIT several days after the first eight members of the Commission were released by the Holy See.
The Commission, launched 22 March, will be tasked with advising the Holy See on matters pertaining to youth protection.
Monsignor Rossetti offered his thoughts on the unique structure of this Vatican Commission.
Part 1 of this interview was published Monday.
ZENIT: What are your thoughts on the choice of members?
Rossetti: We should again not underestimate the stunning make-up of the commission. First of all, a number of them are lay people. Normally we pack the Vatican dicasteries with priests (like myself), and bishops and that sort of thing. But this is not the case. Half of them are women. The Holy Father has said that he wants women to have a greater role in the Church governance, and you can see that in this Commission.
[Secondly], you’ve got a victim on there. This is not a small thing. Marie Collins, God bless her, has done great work in advocating for children and the protection of children, and the Holy Father saw this: he said, we want her for this Commission. So to have a victim that high up in the Church’s governance, and advising the Holy Father, is a wonderful development.
And also look at the other members: Baroness Hollins, for instance, a clear child advocate. Dr. Catherine Bonnet from France is also a child advocate and works as a child psychiatrist. You’ve got several people on there who are clearly lifelong promoters of child protection, and their voices are going to be heard.
ZENIT: You’ve worked a great deal in the United States. What will this Commission mean for the work done to prevent the abuse of minors in the US?
Rossetti: One of the first things [you notice about] this Commission was that there are no Americans except for Cardinal O’Malley. Of course, he’s somebody who gets it. He has been a strong proponent of child protection.
I’d like to see the US be a resource. Actually, we started this process [of child protection in the US] in 1985. This has been going on for 30 years, so I think we have something to contribute to the Commission, but we also have something to learn. The US is not finished developing its policies. It’s not finished protecting children. I’d like to see a good give and take between the Church in the US, and all the good that it’s done, and also that it can learn as well.
ZENIT: Could you speak about the concrete structure of this Commission?
Rossetti: The Commission’s structure and agenda, specifically, has not actually been set. It wasn’t as if the Holy Father said: here is how it’s going to be organized, and this is going to be your agenda. He said he wants the Commission itself to do that, which gives them a lot of flexibility and freedom. I think the Commission members will sit down and say: Who are we? And how will we conduct business? It’s exciting for them to have that much flexibility. And it’s a question of trust: the Holy Father trusts them not only to advise him, but also to tell him how they should be organized.
I would also say that the Commission has an important educative function, not only in developing policy, but in helping to educate. One of the important child protection initiatives around the world needs to be education. Look at the many countries which have really just begun to address this issue. One of the things that the Vatican can do, through this Commission, is share what they know. There can be a real exchange of information and educative function for the Commission.
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