(Vatican Radio) The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors issued a statement on Friday in response to Cardinal George Pell’s hearings via video link with Australia’s Royal Commission investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
The statement says that a member of the Pontifical Commission, Jesuit Fr Hans Zollner, has met with survivors of clerical sex abuse who had come over from Australia for the hearings that took place this week at Rome’s Hotel Quirinale. The three victim/survivors from Ballarat, north west of Melbourne, requested the meeting in order to share ideas about healing and about how to protect children from abuse in the future.
While acknowledging that the problem is not limited to the Catholic Church, the three men said they were keen to develop links with the Vatican Commission established by Pope Francis in March 2014. They spoke in particular about models of educating children, parents and teachers to effect structural change within the Church and to safeguard vulnerable people.
The Ballarat survivors also met with students attending a diploma-programme in Safeguarding of Minors at the Gregorian University, where Fr Hans serves as president of the Psychology Institute’s Centre for Child Protection.
Progress in child protection
Meanwhile a note from the director of the Holy See press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, set out the many steps that have been taken by Vatican and by local Churches over the past two and a half decades to combat the problems of clerical sex abuse. He said some media coverage of this week’s Royal Commission hearings and reviews of the Oscar-winning film Spotlight have ignored the important progress made towards supporting victims and ensuring the protection of vulnerable people in all churches and religious institutions.
Father Lombardi stressed the Church’s desire to put its child protection expertise, acquired over the past decades, at the service of wider society, which often struggles to acknowledge and combat extensive sexual abuse. He welcomed the Australian survivors’ willingness to establish a constructive dialogue with Cardinal Pell and with the Vatican Commission in order to support and intensify efforts to stamp out child abuse in the Church and throughout the world today.
Please see below the full statement from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors
Over the past two days, Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, met in two occasions with Mr David Ridsdale, Mr Andrew Collins and Mr Peter Blenkiron, victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse from Ballarat, Australia, who have come to Rome for Cardinal George Pell's hearing by the Royal Commission. Cardinal Pell had asked to arrange this meeting after these gentlemen requested to meet with a member of the Pontifical Commission. These gentlemen explained the reason for wanting to meet with a member of the Pontifical Commission is that, “We would like to discuss ideas we have had about healing and the future to protect children from institutional abuse. We know this problem had been wider than the Catholic Church but our experiences have been in this environment. We are keen to develop links with your group as it is a world-wide issue.”
The victims/survivors spoke of models of educating children, parents and teachers so as to effect structural change within the Church and society concerning the effective safeguarding of children and adolescents. This discussion comes at a time when the Pontifical Commission decided at their 2016 February Plenary Assembly to have one strategic focus on safeguarding of minors in Catholic schools at their September 2016 Assembly.
Fr. Hans appreciated very much the victims’/survivors’ concerns and their proposals for preventive measures, and he will report back to the other members of the Pontifical Commission, so that all can learn from the victims’/survivors’ experience to improve the Commission’s work in healing in the present, and better understand how to prevent sexual abuse by those in service to the Church from happening again in the future.
During the meeting, Fr. Hans explained to the victims/survivors the purpose of the Commission and also talked, in particular, about his work and initiatives in prevention from abuse within and outside the Church as President of the “Centre for Child Protection” of the Institute of Psychology of the Pontifical Gregorian University. The Ballarat survivors met also with some of the students of the Diploma-programme in Safeguarding of Minors, offered at the Gregorian University.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was created by Pope Francis in March of 2014. The Chirograph of His Holiness Pope Francis states specifically, “The Commission’s specific task is to propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church. The Commission is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.”