When Vatican initiatives involve clergy sexual abuse, Catholic Church reform-minded, survivor-supporting movements like Voice of the Faithful® react with guarded optimism. This is the case once again regarding the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was instituted this past Saturday, Mar. 22, having been originally announced Dec. 5, 2013.
A major reason for optimism this time is the commission’s initial composition. Five of the eight members are lay people, and four of those are women. One, notably, is an outspoken, internationally known clergy sexual abuse survivor, Ireland’s Marie Collins. In addition, the sole American on the commission, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has one of the better records on clergy sexual abuse among the Church’s hierarchy. He also has considerable experience supervising settlements and trying to clean up dioceses damaged when the extent of clergy sex abuse was revealed.
According to the Vatican, the eight newly named members of the Pontifical Commission are to prepare its statutes and define its tasks and “competencies.” From VOTF’s point of view, the principal tasks of the commission must include full transparency, a reckoning of all those involved in the scandal. Also, the commission’s statutes must guard against future secrecy and provide discipline for offending hierarchy.
VOTF has been working to accomplish these goals for 12 years; SNAP, the international abuse survivor group, has called for justice for the past 25 years; and canon lawyer and survivor supporter Fr. Thomas Doyle presented his first report on clergy sexual abuse from his position in the Vatican embassy as long ago as 1984. Announcement of this new Vatican commission is long past due.
The Vatican announcement also stated that Blessed John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had declared the importance of rooting out such scandal, establishing the full truth and taking necessary steps to prevent such crimes from ever being committed again. Pope Francis, the announcement said, is following in their footsteps, and he “has made clear that the Church must hold the protection of minors amongst Her highest priorities.”
Perhaps this time the Vatican will match action to its rhetorical support for justice. VOTF sees the use of lay specialists on sex abuse and the inclusion of a survivor on the new commission as a critical first step. Next steps will be equally critical. VOTF will continue its part in healing the Church.
Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in governance and guidance of the Church. Click here for more information.