Pope Francis, who has called for zero tolerance for the "despicable" crime of sexual abuse of minors, has praised new efforts aimed at helping the Church better protect children.
In a letter to Fr Hans Zollner SJ, president of the Centre for Child Protection at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pope said he was "happy about what you are doing and I sincerely congratulate you."
Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley read the letter out at a news conference on Monday inaugurating the official launch of the centre’s new premises and its activities. The launch followed a three-year pilot project phase.
The centre offers an onsite and online prevention and child protection programme and diploma, which will be available from next year.
It was established in 2012 as a way to help build awareness and train religious and lay leaders globally about the problem of abuse.
The Gregorian University that year hosted an unprecedented conference aimed at addressing the Church's response to the abuse scandal.
Cardinal O'Malley, 70, who heads the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection, said he remembers "being raised without much awareness" about abuse and only later saw how the "climate of secrecy and shame" caused so much damage.
While the pontifical commission will be focusing on helping the Church develop better policies and procedures for protecting minors, it will also put extra emphasis on real accountability for bishops who do not comply with child protection norms adopted by their bishops' conferences and approved by the Vatican.
The Centre for Child Protection, on the other hand, will focus on training, education and raising awareness as well as promoting more research on the scope of abuse in the Church and its causes.
While many abuse survivors emphasise the need to hold church leaders accountable, many underestimate the continued need for education, said American Mgr Stephen Rossetti, a licenced psychologist.
Mgr Rossetti, who has many years' experience teaching pastoral studies and leading the St Luke Institute, a treatment centre in Maryland for priests and religious with addictions and psychological problems, told the US-based Catholic News Service: "Education is really the key, it really makes the difference.”
Rossetti, who is now teaching at the Gregorian University, said the Church now is "more hostile to an abuser," making it a place where an abuser will not be tolerated, he said.
In the field of child protection in the United States, he said, after a decade of work "we are seeing the results" with the number of abuse cases reported dropping and 5 million Americans having gone through some form of the Catholic Church's child protection training.
"Education has become the most important part" in abuse protection, he said, even though much media attention right now is on leadership accountability.
While bishops must respond to allegations and be held accountable, "the 15 cases you stop because of an education programme" don't make the news, he said. "It's something you don't see."
Above: Fr Zollner and Cardinal O'Malley. Photo: CNS