Sept. 16, 2016 – Pundits were once again this week debating the effectiveness of Pope Francis’ Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, as news spread that commission members have been speaking with new bishops and Vatican offices about child protection best practices. Voice of the Faithful believes this action is another step in the slow progress of Francis’ papacy toward dealing with the clergy sexual abuse scandal, while not yet the substantial steps needed.
Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned abuse, including bishops who cover up or enable abusers continued access to children. He has often slammed clericalism in the Church, which VOTF has long said is a major factor in the scandal. In early 2014, he set up his child protection commission to develop best practices and to educate the Church about them. This past June, he promulgated an apostolic letter that expanded “grave reasons” for removal from ecclesiastical office to include “negligence of bishops in the exercise of their office, in particular in relation to cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.” This motu proprio also empowered several Vatican dicasteries to investigate allegations against bishops, initiate removal, and report to him. Previously, only the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith handled abuse cases.
The child protection commission also reported this week that members have long been talking with and educating clergy about preventing sexual abuse of children. Their new initiatives include a training program for bishops and a template to help bishops’ conferences and Catholic associations prevent and deal with abuse.
Demonstrating just how desperately bishops need such help, the Catholic Whistleblowers, a network of clergy, religious and laypeople who have reported or support reporting abuse, this week sent a follow-up letter to the Vatican requesting investigation of the U.S. bishops’ abuse policies. They sent the first letter nine months ago and have yet to receive a reply, and apparently none of the bishops investigations they requested more than a year ago have been initiated.
For nearly 15 years, VOTF has sought changes in Church structures to better protect children. No one can tell yet whether these initiatives by the Pope’s commission are the beginnings of such structural change, but in VOTF’s experience, constant, continuing vigilance will be required until such change is achieved.
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 the governance and guidance of the Church. For more information, www.votf.org, or call (781) 559-3360