VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ commission for the protection of minors met in Rome last week to listen to survivors of clerical sexual abuse and to discuss abuse-prevention education and policy and ways the Church might work more closely with abuse survivors.
According to an April 22 communiqué from the commission, the first day of their plenary was dedicated to hearing thoughts and testimonies from survivors of clerical sexual abuse, many of them members of the Survivor Advisory Panel (SAP) of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission of England and Wales.
Those who attended voiced appreciation for being listened to and described the encounter as “empowering.”
One of the survivors, according to the statement, voiced hope that their visit would help the commission “develop a wider network of survivors who are willing to advise and support” the commission’s work in a similar manner.
The commission expressed gratitude to the SAP group for offering their “expertise and experiences” during the plenary, saying their contribution will help the commission “to develop effective ways to integrate the voice of survivors into the life and ministry of the Church.”
In comments made in a video statement uploaded by the Center for Child Protection (CCP) April 14, clerical abuse survivor Deborah Kloos, who is not a member of the SAP but met with commission members during the plenary, said the Church needs to pray regularly for victims of clerical sexual abuse.
“It is something very important to me that our Catholic Church prays together for people wounded by abuse, because so many were wounded under the roof of the Church,” she said, asking the Pope to lead the Church in praying for those who have been abused.
The wound of abuse, she said, affects survivors “their entire life, and it separates them from the Eucharist.”
Kloos, who is originally from Canada, has long lobbied for a day of prayer for the victims of clerical sexual abuse, which Pope Francis has asked bishops’ conferences to organize at a local level.
After her abuse more than three decades ago, Kloos left the Catholic Church for a period, but eventually came back, and she sings in her parish choir.
“I feel very connected,” she said in the video, but lamented that “the only thing missing is that I don’t hear the Church praying in the prayers of the faithful for those who have been wounded by abuse.”
“It’s very important, and I ask everyone to remember, because if we don’t remember and we don’t bring it out, then there’s no way that healing can occur,” Kloos said. “You don’t see the people separated from the Church, but there are thousands of people who don’t come to Mass anymore because someone was wounded under the roof of this Church.”
During their meeting, the commission also heard presentations on the outcome of the Australian Royal Commission’s inquiry into institutional responses to sexual abuse, as well as the role that faith communities play in helping to overcome trauma.
On Saturday, April 21, members met with Pope Francis in a private audience. During the encounter, the Pope said he intended to confirm the commission’s statutes, which had been approved for an experimental period of three years when the commission was established in 2015.
Commission members also outlined to the Pope their priorities moving forward, which they said can clearly be seen through three specific working groups: working with survivors, education and formation, and prevention guidelines and norms.
After meeting Pope Francis Saturday, the commission closed their plenary Sunday, April 22. No date has yet been announced for their next gathering.
The commission was established by Pope Francis in March 2014 and is headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
The commission’s initial mandate ended in December 2017, and in February of this year, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had reconfirmed some members of the commission, including Cardinal O’Malley as its president, and that he had also appointed several new members.
The new members are Benyam Dawit Mezmur from Ethiopia; Sister Arina Gonsalves of the Congregation of the Religious 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 United 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.
Survivors of clerical sexual abuse are among commission members; however, the names of the survivors have not been made public, leaving it up to them whether to disclose their experiences.