VATICAN CITY — On Saturday the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has reconfirmed Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, also reconfirming seven members and appointing nine new ones.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) is an advisory body to the Pope on the issue of safeguarding minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse. Its first three-year mandate concluded in December 2017 and was awaiting the Pope’s confirmation of new and old members.
The new members are Benyam Dawit Mezmur from Ethiopia; Sister Arina Gonsalves of the Congregation of the Relgious of Jesus and Mary from India; Neville Owen from Australia; Sinalelea Fe’ao from Tonga; Myriam Wijlens from the Netherlands; Ernesto Caffo from Italy; Sister Jane Bertelsen of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood from the Unoted Kingdom; Teresa Kettelkamp from the United States; and Nelson Giovanelli Rosendo Dos Santos from Brazil.
The returning commission members are Gabriel Dy-Liacco from the Philippines; Bishop Luis Manuel Alí Herrera from Colombia; Jesuit Father Hans Zollner from Germany; Hannah Suchocka from Poland; Sister Kayula Lesa of the Religious Sisters of Charity from Zambia; Sister Hermenegild Makoro of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood from South Africa; and Msgr. Robert Oliver from the United States.
In a statement released Feb. 17, Cardinal O’Malley said that Pope Francis “has given much prayerful consideration in nominating these members. The newly appointed members will add to the commission’s global perspective in the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”
In his reconfirmation of previous members, the Pope has also “ensured continuity in the work of our commission, which is to assist local Churches throughout the world in their efforts to safeguard all children, young people and vulnerable adults from harm,” Cardinal O’Malley said.
According to a press release, the 16 members are made up of eight women and eight men spanning multiple disciplines of international expertise in the field of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults from the crime of sexual abuse.
“Representatives from several new countries will now offer their insights and experience to the commission, reflecting the global reach of the Church and the challenge of creating safeguarding structures in diverse cultural contexts,” the release stated.
The members of the commission include both victims of clerical sexual abuse and parents of victims. The commission has stated that it will continue to uphold its practice of defending each person’s right to choose whether or not to disclose their experiences of abuse publicly.
“The members appointed today have chosen to not do so publicly, but solely within the commission. The PCPM firmly believes that their privacy in this matter is to be respected,” they stated.
It was announced that the commission’s new term, as decided at the last plenary meeting in September 2017, would begin with listening to and learning from people who have experienced abuse, their family members and others who support them.
They also affirmed that the “victim/survivor first” approach will continue “to be central” to their policies and educational programs.
“The PCPM wishes to hear the voices of victims/survivors directly, in order that the advice offered to the Holy Father be truly imbued with their insights and experiences,” the release stated.
The first plenary meeting of the new commission will be held in April and will begin with a private meeting with people who have experienced abuse. They will discuss proposals of ways to continue to foster an ongoing dialogue with victims and survivors around the world.
They announced that discussions have also already been underway to create an “International Survivor Advisory Panel” (ISAP), building off the experience of the “Survivor Advisory Panel” of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales.
The working group to research and develop a proposal for the ISAP has been led by Baroness Sheila Hollins, a founding member of the commission, who will lead a presentation at the April plenary session.
Goals for the panel include studying prevention from a survivor’s perspective and being proactive in raising awareness for the need for healing and care for everyone who has suffered abuse.
According to their statement, over the last four years, the commission has worked with almost 200 dioceses and religious communities around the world “to raise awareness and educate people on the need for safeguarding in our homes, parishes, schools, hospitals and other institutions.”
The statement concluded: “The members would like to thank all those who have embraced this call and to thank the Holy See for supporting and encouraging these efforts.”