The Church's latest step toward the prevention of the sexual abuse of minors is the newly-announced Vatican commission, which is expected to collaborate with the Jesuit-run Centre for Child Protection.
“The task of the new commission will be greater than what the Centre for Child Protection would ever be able to realize,” the center's president, Fr. Hans Zollner, told CNA Dec. 6. “We take care of delivering a program with the aim of educating pastoral personnel. At first glance, this will be an occasion to collaborate with the commission.”
He added that “three months ago, we decided that the Centre for Child Protection would be moved to Rome at the end of the pilot phase – that is, at the end of 2014, and this will surely open many opportunities for the synergies O’Malley talked about.”
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, announced Dec. 5 that Pope Francis “has decided to establish a very specific commission for the protection of children,” which had been proposed by the group of eight cardinals he had assembled to advise him on reform of the Roman Curia and the governance of the Church.
The commission will be officially launched by a document by Pope Francis, and will probably work together with the Centre for Child Protection, which is run the Pontifical Gregorian University and is the fruit of the 2011 conference “Toward healing and renewal,” hosted at the university.
The center, the offices of which are in Munich, is a collaboration of the Gregorian University, with the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising as well as the University of Ulm's departments of psychiatry and infant and adolescent psychotherapy.
It functions as a source of distance learning, over the internet and in various languages, for the competencies necessary for confronting and preventing the sexual abuse of minors.
The Vatican commission's task will be much the same. Cardinal O'Malley said yesterday that among its responsibilities will be “to study the present programs in place for protection of children and to come up with suggestions or new initiatives on the part of the curia in collaboration with the bishops and the episcopal conferences,” and its staff will include experts in various fields, including psychology.
The commission marks the latest instance in the Vatican's response to clergy sex abuse.
In 2002, under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the instruction “De delictis gravioribus” to face the sex abuse scandal.
The instruction was issued because dioceses, failing to report cases of sexual abuse to Rome, had neglected to take measures against the priests responsible, often merely transferring them.
When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope in 2005, he continued his concern for the issue, further strengthening protective measures and meeting discreetly with victims, praying with them and asking forgiveness on behalf of the Church.
In 2010, in the midst of the Year of the Priesthood, Pope Benedict at Fatima imposed penance on the Church over the sexual abuse scandal.
The following year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith delivered a letter to the world's bishops' conferences, asking that they adopt stringent guidelines to fight such abuse by May, 2012.
The letter highlighted five key points: assistance to the victims of sexual abuse; protection of minors; education of future priests and religious; helpful support for guilty priests; and collaboration with civil authorities.
Pope Francis' decision marks one more step forward in the Church’s response to the abuse of minors. Cardinal O'Malley noted that it “will be able to advise the Holy Father about the protection of children and the pastoral care for victims of abuse.”