VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has agreed to the creation of a special commission for the protection of children from sexual abuse.
The Holy Father’s decision to set up the new body came in response to a suggestion from the eight-member Council of Cardinals who concluded a three-day meeting at the Vatican Dec. 5.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, a member of the council, told reporters this afternoon that the creation of the commission continues “decisively along the lines undertaken by Pope Benedict XVI.”
The new body for the protection of minors will have the aim of “advising Pope Francis on the Holy See’s commitment to the protection of children and in pastoral care for victims of abuse,” Cardinal O’Malley said.
More specifically, he said the commission will “study current programs” in place for the protection of children, and “formulate suggestions for new initiatives” on the part of the Curia, in collaboration with bishops, bishops’ conferences, religious superiors and conferences of religious superiors.
He also said it would identify those best suited to the “systematic implementation of these new initiatives.” Such people could include laypersons, religious and priests with responsibilities for the safety of children, in relations with the victims, in mental health and in law enforcement, Cardinal O’Malley said.
The “composition and competences” of the commission will be disclosed soon, he said, adding that the Holy Father will share more details “in an appropriate document.”
The Commission’s Objectives
The Franciscan cardinal went on to mention lines of action for the future commission. These will include guidelines for the protection of children, procedures and strategies for protecting children and preventing abuse, and educational programs for children, parents and all those who work with minors.
The new commission will also draw up “guidelines” for catechists, seminarians and priests, and devise “protocols for environmental safety codes of professional conduct.”
Additional areas include assessing suitability for priestly ministry, screening and checking of previous offenses, and acting on requests for psychiatric evaluation, Cardinal O’Malley added. He also stressed the new commission will look at co-operation with civil authorities, including the “reporting of crimes, compliance with civil law, communications regarding clergy declared guilty, pastoral care for victims and their families, spiritual assistance and mental health services.”
Further work will involve fostering collaboration with experts in the field as well as improving implementation of laws and guidelines. The commission would be involved in drawing up “encounters with victims, supervision and rehabilitation of clergy guilty of abuse,” Cardinal O’Malley explained.
The new body will be composed of members from around the world, consisting of approximately 12 members. It will not affect the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s authority for disciplining abusive priests. Local episcopates will also remain responsible for the safety of children in their dioceses.
“The Holy See will try to be helpful and help to identify best practices,” Cardinal O’Malley said.
He went on to stress that while the Vatican’s focus has largely been on legal procedures until now, the new commission would be dedicated to offering a more pastoral approach to the problem.
Council Meeting Concludes
Father Lombardi said at the end of the Dec. 5 briefing that the work the council of cardinals would conclude that afternoon. The council members had continued their examination of the various congregations of the Roman Curia Dec. 4 and Dec. 5.
The council will reconvene from Feb. 19-21, and will be followed the next day with a consistory of the College of Cardinals.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.