Ensuring Survivors' Voices Are Heard

Pontifical Commission Seeks to Address the Injustice of Clerical Sex Abuse

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On Saturday, members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors updated journalists on their work during their meetings held in the Vatican from Feb. 6-8th.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the commission spoke alongside members Peter Saunders from England, a victim of clerical sex abuse in his adolescence, and Sr. Kayula Gertrude Lesa, RSC of Zambia, a developmental trainer and an author on child protection and human trafficking. Several of the 17-member commission were also present at the press conference.

In his opening remarks, Cardinal O’Malley spoke on the Pope’s recent letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences and Superior of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. In the letter, the Pope asked for full cooperation to the recommendations of the Pontifical Commission to ensure the well-being and safety of children and vulnerable adults.

The American prelate also explained the Commission’s tasks, including developing best practices for Episcopal Conferences alongside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

«We are currently working to develop seminars to educate Church leadership in the area of child protection,» he said. «We hope to offer these programs for members of the Roman Curia and for newly appointed bishops who come to Rome from throughout the world, for orientation programs sponsored by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.»

Cardinal O’Malley went on to explain that the Commission is also establishing working groups that will study various aspects that can contribute to outlining guidelines.

«We have one working group which has been charged with the task of outreach to survivors who might contribute to our efforts by their participation, especially concerning issues of prevention and sound guidelines,» he said.

Although admitting that some of the responses to proposed guidelines from bishop’s conferences have been «weak», the Cardinal said that the Commission is working on strengthening them.

Zero-Tolerance and Accountability

For his part, Peter Saunders said that as a member of the Commission, his opinion on their work changed after their meetings.

«After two days of sitting with a group of a wide range of people, the trepidation has disappeared and I’m very hopeful that there will be significant changes that will address the challenges the Church and the wider community facing the dreadful scourge of child abuse,» he said.

Saunders also noted that the commission has been given «a free hand» by the Holy Father to make suggestions and recommendations on how the Church can work to protect children. «We are there to speak our mind and we are not there to be «yes» people for the Vatican,» he said.

«I think it’s an issue worth mentioning that as a commission we have agreed to go beyond the four walls, to look at the different sets of issues and we’ll be talking to other organizations around the world, because ours is not the only voice that needs to be heard.»

‘Addressing the Injustices of the Past’

Regarding the importance of meeting directly with survivors, Cardinal O’Malley said that he was grateful for the Holy Father’s letter which stressed the need for bishops to meet with and listen to those who have been abused.

«As a bishop, I can’t stress what a transformative experience it was to meet with hundreds of victims,» he said.

The Archbishop of Boston said that of the 4 dioceses that he has served in, three were overwhelmed by the sex abuse crisis. During that time, he recalled, he met with scores of victims which was important in helping him to understand that «so little was done for the victims.»

He also said that direct meetings serve «to express remorse and regret» and to seek «forgiveness on the part of the Church for the negligence that allowed this to happen.»

«Meeting with survivors will motivate a person to promote child protection, to address the injustices of the past and I’m delighted that the Holy Father is calling on Church leaders to do this.»

Following the press conference, members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors discussed with journalists the work ahead of them, especially in assuring that the voices of those who have survived clerical abuse are heard.

Baroness Sheila Hollins highlighted the importance of working groups that assist the commission in researching and implementing ideas with regard to formation and best practices for the Church.

A professor of the psychiatry of learning disability at St George’s, University of London, Baroness Hollins told ZENIT that although the Pontifical Commission does not deal with specific cases, hearing as many voices as possible helps to «inform our thinking.»

«We are developing a very good shared understanding of the enormity of the task, and achieving a consensus on the priorities that we need to take forward, but we haven’t finished our work,» she said. 

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Junno Arocho Esteves

Newark, New Jersey, USA Bachelor of Science degree in Diplomacy and International Relations.

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