The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (Italian : Pontificia Commissione per la Tutela dei Minori) is an institution within the Roman Curia of the Catholic Church instituted by Pope Francis on 22 March 2014. The commission received its statutes on 8 May 2015 as part of the Catholic Church's efforts to deal with the scandal of sex abuse of minors. Its singular purpose is to propose initiatives that could protect children from pedophiles in the church. It is headed by Boston's Cardinal Archbishop, Sean P. O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap., who was selected by Pope Francis for this task; earlier O'Malley had been sent to Boston to correct troubles relating to the issue under his predecessor, Bernard Cardinal Law. The creation of the commission was announced in 2013 after Francis was criticized by victims' groups who questioned his understanding of the full scope of the problem. Following a slow start, the commission has, as of 2015, begun meeting with bishops and sponsoring training for church staff worldwide. The most significant proposal of the commission, the creation of an in-house Vatican tribunal to judge cases of bishops who are accused of failing to protect victims, was approved by Francis but has not been implemented.
Pope Francis has planned a reorganization of the Curia that will alter the role of this Commission. A final draft of his apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia, titled Praedicate Evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”), has been submitted for comment to national bishops’ conferences and a variety of other bodies.
The commission is composed of a maximum of eighteen members including a president,and is assigned a full-time secretary at the Vatican, Father Robert W. Oliver, an American priest from New York and a member of the Brotherhood of Hope, who was appointed by Pope Francis on September 10, 2014. Oliver previously served as the Promoter of Justice (chief church prosecutor) at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which prosecutes sex crimes committed by priests and other church personnel. He also served as a priest consultant to the archdiocesan review board and an ecclesiastical judge of the Archdiocese of Boston, under Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley. Oliver was ordained in 2000 for the Boston archdiocese.
Commission member Marie Collins has criticized the Vatican for failing to sufficiently fund the panel, a problem she claims could jeopardize the commission’s work. The commission has been advised to consider raising its own funds to complete the work.
In December 2014, Pope Francis added new members, including an abuse survivor and more experts (four more women and four more men, from five continents) to the commission, bringing the total to 17 members, according to a December 17, 2014, online news story article by Carol Glatz of Catholic News Service (CNS). The new members are abuse survivor Peter Saunders, the chief executive officer of the UK-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC); Krysten Winter-Green; Bill Kilgallon; Precious Blood Sister Hermenegild Makoro; Kathleen McCormack; Religious Sisters of Charity Kayula Lesa; Gabriel Dy-Liacco; Baroness Sheila Hollins and the Luis Manuel Ali Herrera.
Also included is Marie Collins. A native of Ireland, she assisted the Archdiocese of Dublin in establishing its Child Protection Services. She is considered a key addition to the commission, since she herself was abused by a priest when she was a child;Humberto Miguel Yáñez, SJ, Director of the Department of Moral Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University; Hans Zollner, SJ, President of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University and Director and Professor of the Institute of Psychology; Hon. Hanna Suchocka, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland and Ambassador of Poland to the Holy See; Claudio Papale, canon lawyer and a civil lawyer, professor of canon law at the Pontifical Urban University, and an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Catherine Bonnet, a child psychiatrist, psychotherapist, researcher, and author.
Following term expiration of the Commission's members in December 2017,On February 17, 2018, Pope Francis officially relaunched the commission. The new Commission will consist of 16 members, with seven members of the previous returning and nine new members added, and will once again have Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley return as President. Among the new members are several experts from English-speaking countries: the Hon. Neville Owen from Australia; Sr Jane Bertelsen, FMDM, from the United Kingdom; and Ms. Teresa Kettelkamp from the United States. The commission will include eight men and eight women. Baroness Hollins, who will no longer serve as a member of the Vatican Commission, will chair the working group to research and develop a proposal on the International Survivor Advisory Panel (ISAP) and will lead the presentation to the April plenary meeting.
On 21 April the Cardinal Secretary of State approved by mandate of the Supreme Pontiff, ad experimentum for three years, the Statute of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the draft of which had been presented for approval by Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap., President of the same Commission.
The commission received its statutes on May 8, 2015. The statutes include detail on its role as a purely advisory body at the service of the Pope for the purposes of promoting local responsibility in the particular Churches for the protection of all minors and vulnerable adults. The statutes also describe the staffing of the commission, which is composed of a maximum of eighteen members and a President appointed by the Pope for a period of three years, which may be reconfirmed, and a secretary is appointed to the commission by the Pope as well.
The Commission is convened in Plenary Assembly twice each year. On the request of two-thirds of the Members, and with the consent of the President, an extraordinary Plenary Assembly can be convened.
The commission may create working groups of its members, who may present proposals to the complete groups.
The languages employed by the Commission are Italian, Spanish and English.
[00772-EN.01] [Original text: Italian]
Pope Francis issued a Chirograph for the Institution of a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of minors (22 March 2014)
In it he notes: "Many painful actions have caused a profound examination of conscience for the entire Church, leading us to request forgiveness from the victims and from our society for the harm that has been caused. This response to these actions is the firm beginning for initiatives of many different types, which are intended to repair the damage, to attain justice, and to prevent, by all means possible, the recurrence of similar incidents in the future."
He asks the Commission to promote local responsibility in churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, currently under the leadership of Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. He calls for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults, regardless of their religion.
In June, 2015, the commission urged Pope Francis to establish a Vatican tribunal to judge bishops accused of failing to protect children from sexual abuse.
Three members of the commission met in 2015 with the commission’s president, Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, to voice their objection to Francis’ appointment of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid to lead the Diocese of Osorno in Chile. Barros has been accused of complicity in an abuse case there. Bishop Barros was a close associate of a Santiago priest the Vatican found guilty of sexual abuse in 2011, Fernando Karadima. Father Karadima’s victims claim Barros was aware of the abuse but did not protest, and subsequently failed to support the victims.
In February 2016 the commission met amid increasing criticism that Pope Francis needs to deliver on his promise of “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse and cover-ups by church clerics. The members watched the Oscar-nominated film Spotlight together. The movie dramatizes the 2001 experience of the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Boston Globe as they uncovered and exposed systematic sex abuse and subsequent cover-ups by clergy and members of the church hierarchy in Boston.
In February 2017 the lone abuse victim, Marie Collins, left on the commission resigned.
Bernard Francis Law was an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, known largely for covering up molestation of children by Catholic priests. He served as Archbishop of Boston, archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and Cardinal Priest of Santa Susanna, which was the American Catholic church in Rome until 2017, when the American community was relocated to San Patrizio.
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