After three days of discussions, the Council of Eight Cardinals advising Pope Francis on the Curia Reform made official its first proposal: establishing a specific commission for the protection of children who have been victims of abuse. The proposal represents one further step in the fight against clergy pedophilia, a fight pushed forward during Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
Pope Francis is now expected to personally write and issue a document (probably a chirograph) to designate the members of the commission and their range of action.
The model seems to be that of the archdiocese of Boston, where the first wave of scandals of clergy sex abuse originated. The archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, did an impressive job to rehabilitate his diocese. In addition, one of the main officials in the Boston Church’s response to the scandal was the priest and Canon Law expert Robert W. Oliver, now Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It was thus most appropriate that Cardinal O’Malley was chosen to announce to journalists Pope Francis’ decision to establish the new commission.
O’Malley explained on December 5 that the commission will «study programmes currently in place for the protection of children; formulate suggestions for new initiatives on the part of the Curia, in collaboration with bishops, Episcopal conferences, religious superiors and conferences of religious superiors; and identify qualified persons for the systematic implementation of these new initiatives. These persons include lay persons, religious and priests with responsibilities in the fields of children safety, support for the victims, mental health, and the application of the law.»
The commission will also manage, in Cardinal O’Malley words, «programs of education for children, parents and anyone who works with minors; catechists; seminarian education; and priestly permanent education.» It will also handle codes of professional conduct, certification of candidates’ suitability for the priesthood, background and criminal record checks, thorough psychiatric evaluations, cooperation with local authorities, information-sharing about clergy found guilty of sex abuses, and pastoral work to support victims and their families.
These tasks recall those of the Center for Child Protection, launched by the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome one year after the symposium «Toward healing and renewal» organized by the università to outline the Church’s response to the abuse of minors.
The center, whose offices are in Munich, is a collaboration of the Gregorian University, with the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising as well as the University of Ulm’s departments of psychiatry and infant and adolescent psychotherapy.
It functions as a source of distance learning, over the internet and in various languages, for the competencies necessary for confronting and preventing the sexual abuse of minors.
Father Hans Zollner, SJ, president of the center, took part in the Pope’s June 5 morning mass, together with representatives of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People from different countries. Pope Francis met them and gave Zollner the «go ahead.»
In an interview with CNA, Father Zollner explained that «the responsibilities of the new commission will go much further than those the Centre for Child Protection would ever have. We deliver programs to educate personnel for the pastoral. This could be a first area in which we could collaborate with the commission.»
Zollner then added that «three months ago we decided that the Centre for Child Protection will be moved to Rome at the end of the pilot phase, i.e. at the end of 2014, and this will surely open many opportunities for the synergies O’Malley spoke about.»
The commission can be considered the Church’s further response to the cases of pedophile priests.
Long before the scandal of pedophile priests broke out in 2010, Benedict XVI had dedicated a lot of time to the issue, from a fatherly love perspective. That is why Benedict XVI wanted to meet the victims of abuse (he did so in the United States, Australia, Germany, and Great Britain) with discretion, avoiding media commotion.
As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then as Pope, Ratzinger fought very hard against pedophilia in the Church.
In 2002, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the instruction «De delictis gravioribus» to confront the sex abuse cases. The instruction was criticized as representing a means through which Rome wanted to monopolize jurisdiction over the cases, and that way hide the extent of the problem. In fact, it was the dioceses which often did not report to Rome the cases. Many dioceses did not take any measure against the priests committing the abuses. In many cases they tried to get rid of the scandals by simply transferring the priests.
It was a project of transparency, which Ratzinger undertook and carried forward when he was elected Pope in 2005, thus annoying many people in the Roman Curia.
In 2010, in the midst of the «Year for Priests,» with clockwork precision, a new priests’ pedophilia scandal broke out all over the world, in which some tried to immerse the Pope himself. Benedict XVI response was to put the Church in penance at Fatima, and to ask for forgiveness for the sins of the Church’s sons.
In 2011 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith delivered a letter to bishops’ conferences around the world, asking them to adopt guidelines to fight abuses, by May 2012. The letter highlighted five key points: assistance to the victims of sex abuse; minors’ protection; education of future priests and religious; concern for the abusing priests; and collaboration with local authorities.
Pope Francis’ decision now marks one more step forward in the Church’s response to the abuse of minors. Information about previous steps can be accessed through a special banner in the home page of the Vatican’s official website, www.vatican.va.
This initiative is to be commended, and it is in full continuity with what Benedict XVI did, as O’Malley underlined.
In the end, one question remains. After three days of meetings discussing the Curia reform and analyzing the different Vatican dicasteries (starting with the Congregation for Divine Worship), the only concrete proposal to come out from the Council of Eight is to establish a commission that has little to do with the organization of the Roman Curia.
The first impression derived from this, is that cardinals are yet to develop a vision that would inspire an eventual reform of the Pastor Bonus (the Apostolic Constitution that regulates functions and tasks of the Roman Curia). The cardinals underline that they are not working on adjustments, they are thinking about writing a new Apostolic Constitution.
Nothing has been decided yet on how the new constitution would reform the Roman Curia. So far, the proposals are about more coordination among dicasteries and «more collegiality.» There is also the notion of a Curia specifically designed to be of service to the Pope, with the Secretariat of State renamed «the Pope’s Secretariat.»
But many of these are issues already foreseen in the Pastor Bonus. So much that many members of the Curia simply note that «if Pastor Bonus had been really applied, we would have avoided many problems we had to face.»