VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis appointed eight new members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on Wednesday, completing the ranks of the commission with a balanced geographical representation.
“The commission was enlarged with the purpose of having an interdisciplinary view, with different perspectives coming from several parts of the world,” Msgr. Robert Oliver, secretary of the pontifical commission, commented to CNA Dec. 17.
The eight new members come from Africa, Oceania, Asia and South America.
Father Luis Manuel Ali Herrera comes from Colombia, where he serves as a professor of pastoral psychology and director of the psychology department in the Conciliar Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bogotá.
Gabriel Dy-Liacco hails from the Philippines and is an adult and adolescent psychotherapist and pastoral counselor for various mental-health concerns; he has also worked with victims and perpetrators of abuse.
Oceania has two representatives: Bill Kilgallon works in New Zealand, where he directs the Church's National Office for Professional Standards; and Kathleen McCormack hails from Australia, where she served as director of welfare of CatholicCare in the Diocese of Wollongong for 29 years and held leadership roles in family services, child protection, out-of-home care and aging and disability services.
Africa also has two representatives, both of whom are nuns.
Sister Kayula Gertrude Lesa from Zambia is a development professional, trainer and author on child protection, human trafficking, refugee rights and the right to information; Sister Hermenegild Makoro works as a high-school teacher and, for several years, was a trainer in pastoral work in her diocese.
Krysten Winter-Green is a New Zealander based in the United States. She earned post-graduate degrees in theology, human development, social work, religion and pastoral psychology, and she has served in dioceses around the world with homeless persons and those living with AIDS. Winter-Green has performed forensics, assessment and treatment of clerical offenders with regard to child abuse.
Abused throughout his childhood, Peter Saunders set up Britain’s National Association for People Abused in Childhood in order to support all survivors and for developing greater resources for responding to child abuse. Now, he has been appointed a member of the pontifical commission, and he will raise the issue of the victims, together with fellow member and victim Mary Collins.
The Commission’s Work
The members of the commission will “now divide into working groups, so that we can have experts from multiple locales who are able to work on the issue and make proposals, promoting initiatives to the commission,” explained Msgr. Oliver.
At the moment, there are “12 working groups within the commission,” and the members can “look for experts on the topics under discussion.”
With the ranks now completed, the members will gather in Rome Feb. 6-8, with a goal of approving the draft of the statutes.
“Our aim is to finish the draft three weeks before the plenary,” Msgr. Oliver said.
Msgr. Oliver added that, “among the projects, there is that of assisting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its effort for new guidelines for the response to abuse.”
“Three years ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began to work with local bishops' conferences and religious congregations and asked them for guidelines for the response to abuse: We can help them in developing this effort.”
A former Vatican “public prosecutor” in the ranks of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Msgr. Oliver said “we had talked at length about best practices we have been able to observe; we can further discuss about how the response to abuse is managed in Africa and Asia, and we finally should network all of these best practices, in order to improve the general response.”
Msgr. Oliver also stressed, “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be handling the cases, while the pontifical commission will be working on the protection of children.”
Pope Francis' creation of the commission follows upon the works of his predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Under St. John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger — who was then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — established a strong response to allegations of sexual abuse, which he later continued as pope.
His efforts began with a 1988 letter, in which he shed light on how the procedures laid out in canon law made it difficult for bishops to laicize abusive priests.
In Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, a 2001 motu proprio, St. John Paul II transferred authority for investigating abuse cases from the Congregation for Clergy to Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, so that they could be dealt with more speedily.
Finally, in July 2010, under Benedict XVI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presented modifications to canon law that detailed how the dicastery would examine and punish instances of clerical abuse.