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Pope Francis to create commission on protection of minors.

Just as some Catholics were wondering--with good reason--whether Pope Francis was tip-toeing around the sexual-abuse crisis, the Vatican has anounced that he will establish a commission on the protection of minors. The idea, which came from his Council of Cardinals, was explained today by one of its members, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston.

The Commission will study present programmes 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.

What's more, the commission will name the people who will be responsible for implementing these new initiatives. The scope of the commission's work will be expansive. According to the Vatican, it will include coming up with guidelines for protecting kids, developing educational programs for children and adults who work with them, putting in place formation strategies for seminarians and priests alike, establishing codes of professional conduct, finding better ways to determine a man's suitability for the priesthood, conducting more thorough background checks, "reporting of crimes, compliance with civil law, communications regarding clergy declared guilty, pastoral care for victims and their families, spiritual assistance, mental health services, collaboration with experts."

In other words, there is no part of the sexual-abuse crisis that this commission won't examine. In his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis promised to decentralize papal authority. This commission seems designed to re-centralize authority on this matter to Rome. Given the way local bishops conferences have been handling the scandal, in this case centralized authority may be just what the doctor ordered.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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We'll need to wait and see how this plays out.  It sounds like it could lead to positive reforms.  I do note that the phrase "holding bishops accountable" does not appear in the description fo the commission's scope - although it doesn't seem to be excluded, either.  I hope that concrete reform measures come out of this.

It would be wonderful if, as part of the commission's process, the faithful could be surveyed, as has been happening now in preparation for the upcoming synod on the family.  A number of good ideas for strengthening the Dallas Charter program have surfaced in conversations here at dotCom.  For the Holy See to create a communication channel for those ideas to be formally passed on to it would be tremendous.


I thought it was very troubling that we had a couple of bishops here- in Nebraska and Oregon, I believe- who flat out refused to adopt the child protection standards created by the national Catholic Conference.  I  think  the Vatican needs to step in to make sure child safety is not considered optional.

". . . findins better ways to determine a man's suitability for the priesthood, conducting more thorough background checks, . . ."

It's not rocket science.  The FBI does a great job of screening its applicants.  A polygraph test is part of the process.  Interviewing many friends, neighbors, roommates, acquaintances, et al. is another part.  (With all the Catholics in the FBI, the Church should find it easy to get good screeners to decide who are good candidates for the priesthood.)

At least there's a proposal to look at the recruitment policy, but the two things I think would make the most difference to clergy sex abuse ... allowing married men and women as priests ... will probably never be considered.  One act that would show how serious the pope is about sex abuse would be to remove the bishops like Law and Mahony who have covered it up.

I don't see anything about holding bishops accountable for enabling and protecting perpetrators so Francis seems to have overlooked that.


Well, I guess we can assume that Grant Gallicho is on board with the new papal commission on the priests’ abuse scandal – which presumably enjoys Gallicho’s imprimatur.  [Let's remember that journalistic objectivity should trump cheerleading.]

However, given the recent abysmal record of the hierarchy on this issue I hope that many of us will be forgiven if we remain skeptical, at best. 

I don’t often quote Ronnie Reagan, but here it is very apropos: Those of us in the survivor-support community will just have to “Trust, but verify!”

The specifics of the Vatican commission on sexual abuse are yet to be determined.  Which begs the question: Why?  Just exactly who needs to yet sanction the purview of this new commission?  I thought that Papa Francesco was omnipotent?  Does our brother of fond memory in seculsion over at the convent get a veto on this matter?  Very interesting.  

Maybe the program of the new commission needs to get vetted first by the Vatican’s public relations machinery?  And/or, the scolds and protectors of the hierarchy over at the Holy Office?

 Let me take a first whack at some of the major elements of the announced commission:

  • “the pastoral aspect” – As in the past, the hierarchs seem to be hoping the faithful will empathize with their attempts to be sensitive, caring and “pastoral.”

Rather, the Church should be focused on the criminal and psychological aspects of clergy sexual abuse, and not divert its attention away from the needs of survivors for justice and healing. 

Largely, the Catholic Church has no credibility in adjudicating abuse cases.  Canon law is essential a protections racket for bishops and priests.  Sexual abuse and exploitation cases should be referred exclusively to criminal justice systems.

  • The proposed commission will be “composed of priests, women and men religious, and lay people.” 

The “experts” on clergy sexual abuse are the survivors – and they should constitute the overwhelming majority of any commission membership.  Priests, and religious women sadly all too frequently, were the enablers of the predator priests.  Totally compromised lay men and women – comprising the present membership of most diocesan review boards – are too compliant and indulgent of, too entrenched in, themselves in a clerical culture encased in stifling narcissism.

If Papa Francesco is really interested, the survivor support community could provide an exhaustive list of survivors who would be qualified to serve on the commission.  What a moment of healing for survivors and the Church that would be!

[One priest who really should be on the commission is Tom Doyle, O.P. who has courageously ministered to survivors for decades.  He was the one American priest who futilely tried to sound the alarm with American hierarchs, but they were like stone idols – and instead they have persecuted Tom for his efforts to support survivors.]

  • “Clout and independence”  - Will this new pontifical commission have the authority and purview to investigate and adjudicate those hierarchs who are complicit in the rape and sodomy of children?  With real subpoena power to compel even an omnipotent hierarch to cooperate, and/or bring to justice? This I got to see!

When I was chair of the SF review board I recommended then to now Cardinal Levada the only possible remedy I could envision restoring the trust and confidence of Catholics and the public in the church:  An independent international commission/court modeled on the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission led by Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu which addressed the abomination and abuses of apartheid.

Levada just derisively dismissed my recommendation in a really whiny, unctuous voice:  “How could anyone expect us to do anything more?  We’ve already done sooooo much.”  [Direct quote!]

I’m sorry, but I suspect most survivors and indeed Catholics will remain skeptical.  That’s the very least we can do in service of the survivors of the abuse who have sacrificed their childhood innocence on the altar of clerical political hegemony. 

We’ll see … “Trust, but verify!”

This is good, but it is not nearly enough.

Until the pope takes meaningful action that truly demonstrates that bishops will be held accountable when failing to protect the young from priests they know to be a risk, I will remain unconvinced that there is a real change in policy. 

Francis should begin by removing Finn from office, and perhaps also the bishops in Minneapolis and Newark.  He should also send Law, Levada, Brady of Ireland and others to a "simple" retirement, perhaps living in a an inner city community that works with the homeless, or in a poor third world community.   Finally, there must be an explicit, written policy that bishops who fail to contact the police to conduct an investigation when allegations of abuse are made will be expected to resign their offices.

If Pope Frances doesn't  remove the bishops who have continued to protect abusers even after 2005 (by which time the severity of the psychological damage to children had become crystal-clear) then he has failed them.  

But I"m still hopeful that he intends to make the bishops accountable and to establish a churhc-wide policy of accountability.  So far, his typical m.o. has been to act carefully and slowly but relentlessly towards his goals, and he seems to give his full attention to large problems all at once.  First, he moved strongly on the financial mess, now he is attending quite systematically  to the collegiality problem.  Maybe the scandal will be next.  His new statement might be the beginning of that project.  

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