Pope Francis to clergy abuse commission: ‘Our commitment must not wane’

Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]

March 7, 2024

By Matthew Santucci

Pope Francis encouraged the papal commission tasked with combatting clergy abuse to move forward in their efforts to make the Church a safer environment for both minors and vulnerable adults.

Acknowledging that it is easy to feel discouraged when confronting the realities of the sexual abuse crisis, the pope told the the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on Thursday morning that “our commitment must not wane.”

“Indeed, I encourage you to move forward so that the Church will be, always and everywhere, a place where everyone can feel at home,” Pope Francis said. 

Underscoring the importance of listening “firsthand” to abuse victims, the pope stressed to the body that “we cannot help others to bear their burdens unless we shoulder them ourselves, unless we show genuine closeness and compassion.” 

“In our ecclesial ministry of protecting minors, closeness to victims of abuse is no abstract concept but a very concrete reality comprised of listening, intervening, preventing, and assisting,” the pope continued. 

The pope also spoke on the importance of bringing greater visibility to the commission’s work. 

“People should know and see how you are accompanying local Churches in their ministry of safeguarding minors. Your closeness will strengthen local ecclesial authorities to share best practices and verify that adequate measures have been taken,” the pope observed. 

Francis highlighted the commission’s annual report as well as the Memorare Initiative as two examples of how the body’s work has assumed a “more defined shape” in making the Church “an increasingly safe place for minors and vulnerable adults.” 

The Memorare Initiative was launched by the PCPM in 2023 in order to assist local Churches, namely in the global South, in training programs as well as in guiding abuse prevention policies. In December 2023, the commission approved a grant of 230,000 euros to help institute “safeguarding initiatives” in several countries including Paraguay, Panama, and Mauritius, and to the Association of Members Episcopal Conference in Eastern Africa (AMECEA). 

Pope Francis joins the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in prayer at the Vatican on March 7, 2024. | Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis joins the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in prayer at the Vatican on March 7, 2024. | Credit: Vatican Media

“This is a very concrete way for the commission to demonstrate its closeness to the leadership of these Churches,” the pope explained. “This will create a network of solidarity with victims and those who promote their rights, especially where resources and experience are limited.” 

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) was established by Pope Francis in 2014 following a meeting with the Council of Cardinals as an advisory body “to propose initiatives to the Roman Pontiff … for the purposes of promoting local responsibility in the particular Churches for the protection of all minors and vulnerable adults.”

In 2022 the commission was placed within the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), in line with Pope Francis’ apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, which reformed the governance of the Roman Curia, the administrative arm of the Holy See. However, the PCPM still reports directly to the pope through its president, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston. 

The pope also pointed to the body’s compliance with his apostolic letter Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which established a new set of norms for the universal Church concerning the procedural handling of sexual abuse cases, as another example of the body’s work in bringing tangible action. 

“I have already asked you to ensure compliance with Vos Estis Lux Mundi so that reliable means are in place for welcoming and caring for victims and survivors as well as for ensuring that the experience and witness of these communities support the work of protection and prevention,” the pope remarked. 

Vos Estis Lux Mundi was promulgated in 2019 and established on an experimental basis for a period of three years new norms to counter sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. In 2023, the pope made the norms permanent and expanded its reach to also cover lay leaders of international associations of the faithful recognized by the Vatican. 

However, some victims have questioned the effectiveness of these reforms, even suggesting that a culture of silence persists and victims remain sidelined. 

In February two alleged abuse victims of disgraced former Jesuit mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik spoke at an emotionally-charged press conference in Rome, highlighting what they perceived as the Vatican’s intransigence when it comes to listening to victims. 

“We are sorry because the institutions, instead of taking inspiration from our experience to review their way of acting, continue to close themselves in silence,” said Marjiam Kovač, a Slovenian-born former sister of the now-dissolved Loyola Community who has accused Rupnik. 

Matthew Santucci is a CNA Rome correspondent based in EWTN’s Vatican bureau. He grew up in Connecticut and has been living in Rome since 2020. He has a B.A. in History from Fordham and an M.A. in International Relations from Luiss Guido Carli.