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More survivors to join Vatican abuse commission

By Sarah Mac Donald - 04 May, 2014

Pope to address the commission once all members have been appointed.

Vatican Church AbuseThe Vatican’s new commission dealing with clerical sexual abuse will not deal with individual cases of abuse but will make recommendations regarding policies on accountability and best practice.

The eight-member commission held a press conference on Saturday in the Vatican after three days of meetings and outlined some of the progress they had achieved.

Reading a statement on behalf of the commission, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said the members planned to draft statutes for approval by Pope Francis to clarify the commission’s “nature, structure, activity and the goals.”

He said such policies were necessary to fill gaps in existing church law.

He also warned that “In some people’s minds, ‘oh, this is an American problem, it’s an Irish problem, it’s a German problem. Well, it’s a human problem, and the Church needs to face it everywhere in the world.”

The eight-member commission met the Pope on two occasions during their stay at the Vatican guesthouse, where Pope Francis lives.

Once after a morning Mass and once for a photo opportunity, but he did not address them as a group or attend any of their sessions.

Cardinal O’Malley said he expected the Pope to address the commission once all members have been appointed.

“Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with situations where superiors of the Church have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children,” the American prelate said.

“There are, theoretically I guess, canons that could apply here but obviously they have not been sufficient.”

Asked about a recent directive from the Italian bishops’ conference stating that bishops have no legal obligation to report accusations to the police or other civil authorities, Cardinal O’Malley said, “Obviously, accountability should not be dependent upon legal obligations in the country when we have a moral obligation.”

The commission plans to nominate additional members according to Cardinal O’Malley, who said preserving its independence required a strong presence of lay volunteers, and that the sitting members hoped to be joined by more victim-survivors in addition to Dubliner Marie Collins.

omalley4He said there needed to be geographical diversity within the commission which is currently made up of six Europeans, a North American and a South American, to ensure that awareness of sex abuse extends to all parts of the church.

Asked about the relevance to sex abuse of the Vatican’s scheduled May 5-6 appearance before a United Nations committee monitoring adherence to an anti-torture treaty, Marie Collins said, “many survivors would probably say their abuse was torture, but it’s an entirely different thing, a separate matter altogether from state-sponsored torture.”

The members who took part in the meeting are Catherine Bonnet, France; Marie Collins, Ireland; Sheila Baroness Hollins, United Kingdom; Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley; United States; Claudio Papale, Italy; Hanna Suchocka, Poland; Humberto Miguel Yáñez, S.J., Argentina; and Hans Zollner, S.J., Germany.

The commission’s statement began by stating, “As we begin our service together, we wish to express our heartfelt solidarity with all victims/survivors of sexual abuse as children and vulnerable adults and to share that, from the very beginning of our work, we have adopted the principle that the best interests of a child or vulnerable adult are primary when any decision is made.”

The members said their conversations included many proposals for ways in which the Commission might collaborate with experts from different areas related to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.

“We also met with some people from the Roman Curia regarding areas for future cooperation, including representatives from the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Vatican Press Office, and the Vatican Gendarmerie.”

“We have also shared with Pope Francis how important certain areas are to us in our future work. We see ensuring accountability in the Church as especially important, including developing means for effective and transparent protocols and processes.”

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