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Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors: an inside view

(Vatican Radio) Media headlines across the globe carry the news that Pope Francis has instituted the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors whose task will be to advise the Holy Father on ways to prevent abuse and provide pastoral care for victims and their families.

One of the members of the commission is Hans Zollner, vice-rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University and Chair of the Centre for Child Protection at the University's Institute of Psychology.

He spoke with Vatican Radio’s Mario Galgano about the objectives of this commission.

Listen to the interview… RealAudioMP3

The Pope has made it clear that this is an absolute priority for him, that we continue the line that was established by Benedict XVI, that this is something very important for the life of the church and that we must in an unwavering effort put victims first and we as a Church have to really tackle the issue on an international level. So it has been made clear by the establishment of such a Commission in the Vatican, that the Church leadership here is really willing to work on this in a mid and long term effort because such a commission certainly will have the goal to promote the safeguarding of children, but this is not something that can be done in some months or a few years, this is certainly something that will have to be seen in a long-term perspective.

So, the Pope is willing to do this. He has listened to cardinals, bishops and experts in the field, and has decided to go forward. He has decided to appoint a number of people who have a certain expertise in the field that is quite different among them; there are people from the political field like the former ambassador and former prime minister of Poland Shuckocha, there is a canon lawyer, there are psychiatrists and psychotherapists, and most importantly there is Marie Collins, herself a victim of child sexual abuse by a priest when she was 14 years old. In 2012, when held the symposium on child sexual abuse in the Church here at the Gregorian she told her story of abuse and victimization to 110 bishops and 35 general superiors. So this is a clear sign that the victim’s voices will be heard and they will have their say in this Commission.

Q: What are the goals of this Commission exactly? Only to erect new Church laws or will also be investigating pedophile priests?

A: I don’t think either of those things will be within the scope of the commission. I personally do not think the commission will have any legislative power, I think there are Church offices here in Rome that are competent for this. What the c probably will do is to look into the legislation of the Church, the Canon Law and will try to find out whether this is effective or not and then recommend to the Holy See if there is something to change and what to change. But certainly the Commission itself will not have that power. Secondly I believe the Commission won’t be able to look much into the past, I believe it is meant to be pro-active in work of prevention. The scope of the Commission as I read it, and if you read the statement published, it is very clear that in the first place it is mentioned that education and formation, so I believe that in the Commission’s area there will be the effort to promote sensitivity, to promote awareness around the3 globe for issues that are connected with abuse and information programmes for seminarians, for theologians, for parish workers, for priests, for teachers in catholic schools. I have just talked to Poland and probably the only institution in Poland that does anything in regard to systematic formation programmes for teachers, is not the State, but it’s the Catholic Church, and the same would be true for many other areas in the world. So what the Commission certainly will do is to connect different areas and different sectors in the Church where you have a lot of best practices already put in place but for strange reasons we don’t communicate much between one place to the other, one institution and the other, so I hope that this Commission can also facilitate that exchange of information and that exchange of policy and therefore I believe we can do a great job with this Commission in terms of opening those communication channels.