20 February 2018
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Pope renews child protection body
The Vatican has announced a re-booted Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors,
Pope Francis has sought to wrestle back the initiative over his handling of clerical sexual abuse by renewing a papal child protection commission and revealing he regularly meets victims.
Last week the Vatican announced a re-booted Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a body that had been allowed to lapse after the initial three-year membership terms of the members expired at the end of last year.
This led some survivors to question whether the Pope had de-prioritised the issue while his dismissal of victims in the Bishop Juan Barros case – a Chilean prelate accused of turning a blind eye to abuse – has drawn heavy criticism.
But last Saturday the Pope announced a 16-member child protection commission including nine new members coming from six continents and which, according to the Vatican, included unnamed abuse survivors. The body, set up by Francis in 2014, is now looking to set up an “International Survivor Advisory Panel” modelled on the one set up by the Church in England and Wales.
The latest announcement came two days after it emerged that the Pope revealed to a group of Chilean Jesuits that he has regular Friday meetings with survivors. The Vatican later confirmed these meetings take place “several times” a month but have been kept confidential out of respect for the victims.
But it was while in Chile that Francis upset survivors by describing their cover-up claims against Bishop Barros as “calumny” and then saying no evidence had been brought to him. A letter detailing claims has reportedly been sent to him and the Pope has now asked the respected abuse investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna to conduct an inquiry.
Among the new members of the papal pontifical commission is British religious Sister Jane Bertelsen, who sits on the Archdiocese of Southwark’s safeguarding commission and was closely involved in helping draw up guidelines in England and Wales following Lord Nolan’s 2001 report into the Church’s handling of abuse.
“We have to restore credibility. Trust has been broken,” she told The Tablet when asked about the big challenges facing the Church. “And we have got to keep trying to restore that credibility, with truth-seeking, compassionate listening and in whatever way we can.”
Stressing that the entire Church be involved in safeguarding efforts, Sr Jane called for work to continue on ending a “deep-seated culture” that “lacks accountability, transparency and collaboration”.
A former vice-chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, Sr Jane led the process of establishing child protection norms for members of her religious – order the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood – working in Africa and on anti-abuse measures in Australia.
Francis has also confirmed Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston will remain president of the commission. O’Malley had said that the Pope’s remarks in the Barros case had caused “great pain” to survivors. Founding members who have left the commission including British peer Baroness (Sheila) Hollins and New Zealand-based Bill Kilgallon, a former chair of the England and Wales national Catholic safeguarding commission.
Meanwhile, a Vatican judge serving on the Roman Rota – the church’s appeal court – has been given a suspended sentence by an Italian court after being accused of sexual assault and possession of child pornography.
Pic: Pope Francis in Rome. Credit: PA
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