By Carol Glatz
A Vatican commission recently listened to abuse survivors from Great Britain and discussed the results of Australia’s public inquiry into its country’s institutional responses to abuse.
This was done in an effort to help advise Pope Francis, the Roman Curia, bishops’ conferences, and local churches on protecting minors from abuse.
The plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) from 20 to 22 April was the first gathering with a group of new members appointed in February.
Pope Francis met with the commission members in a private audience on 21 April and had met the day before with Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who is President of the 17-member commission.
The commission secretary is US Monsignor Robert Oliver, a Boston priest, Canon lawyer and former promotor of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Pope Francis said he wanted to confirm the commission’s statutes, which were issued on 21 April 2015 “ad experimentum” for a period of three years, according to a press statement by the commission on 22 April.
During their meeting, according to the statement, members “heard presentations on ‘The outcome of the Australian Royal Commission’, on ‘The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’, and on ‘The role of faith communities in overcoming abuse trauma'”.
Members also listened to the survivor advisory panel of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission from England and Wales.
An unidentified speaker from the advisory panel said they hope their visit will help the PCPM to develop a wider network of survivors who are willing to advise and support the ongoing work of the commission in a similar way.
The panel’s contribution was meant to reflect the Papal Commission’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that the thoughts and contributions of people who have been abused inform all aspects of the commission’s work, as well as help the commission to develop effective ways to integrate the voice of survivors into the life and ministry of the Church.
After Pope Francis founded the commission in 2014, two abuse survivors were named as members.
However, one survivor, Peter Saunders, was asked to take a leave of absence in 2016 after he publicly criticised the way some church leaders had handled accusations of abuse; the other survivor, Marie Collins, quit the group in 2017 over what she described as resistance coming from Vatican offices against implementing recommendations.
In February, the Pope reconfirmed Cardinal O’Malley as President, reconfirmed seven of the 14 founding members, and named nine new members, including Neville Owen, a judge and former chair of the Australian Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council.