Pope praises “courageous vocation” of those who care for sex abuse survivors

La Croix International [France]

March 8, 2024

By Loup Besmond de Senneville

Francis meets members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, encourages them to continue “the work of protection and prevention”

Pope Francis has encouraged members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (“Tutela Minorum”) to continue their “courageous” efforts at helping the Catholic Church fight against sexual abuse within its ranks.

The pope met the group this past Thursday (March 7) at the Vatican where Tutela Minorum was holding a plenary assembly.

Francis tasked the commission back in April 2022 to work on an annual report for safeguarding policies and procedures in the Church. It is expected to be published later this year, probably in October. The document will survey how Catholic institutions worldwide are actively combating sexual abuse against minors. It will also determine how the rules to prevent child sexual abuse, which were drawn up in early the unprecedented Vatican summit Francis called in early 2019 for the presidents of all the world’s episcopal conferences and other Church leaders.

With the report in its final stages, the pope on Thursday expressed his hope that it will help the Church to better appreciate “the work that still lies ahead”.

Purifying the Church

During his meeting with Tutela Minorum, the pope praised the commission members for their commitment to fighting against a constant source of darkness and anguish that plagues the Church.

“In confronting the scandal of abuse and the suffering of victims, we might well grow discouraged, since the challenge of restoring the fabric of broken lives and of healing pain is enormous and complex,” he said. “Many of you have dedicated your lives to caring for victims of abuse,” Francis continued, describing their work as “a courageous vocation that comes from the heart of the Church and helps her to be purified and to grow.”

Catholic leaders should be “deeply moved by the suffering of victims”, the pope said. “These brothers and sisters of ours must be welcomed and listened to, since neglecting to do so can greatly aggravate their suffering. Ours must be a personal commitment to caring for them; at the same time, we need to do so with the help of competent collaborators,” he emphasized.

This week’s meeting came less than a year after Tutela Minorum was thrown into crisis by the resignation of one its most prominent members, Hans Zollner.

The German Jesuit priest and psychologist, who is known as one of the most credible figures in the Church’s fight against sexual abuse, harshly criticized the commission when he stepped down. He particularly accused it of contributing to the “entrenchment” of abuse cases due to organizational ambiguity. He also criticized the way it was being funded. Most of all, he said the commission should be able to exercise more influence over the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for handling the most serious abuse cases.   

Andrew Small, the British-American priest who serves as general secretary of Tutela Minorum, says this kind power does not exist, pointing out that the annual report is designed as “a means to change practices by publicly stating what is working and what is not”.