Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who is heading the Vatican’s newly formed commission for the protection of minors, has said the church itself must take responsibility for fostering a safe environment for children around the world.
"Many don’t see it as a problem of the universal church," he said at a press conference following the commission’s inaugural meeting in Vatican City over the weekend.
"In many people’s minds it is an American problem, an Irish problem or a German problem,” he said.
"The church has to face it is everywhere in the world. There is so much denial. The church has to respond to make the church safe for children."
The plans for a church committee on minors were announced last year by Pope Francis, and its members were confirmed in March.
In addition to Cardinal O’Malley, the eight members are Marie Collins, an Irish woman who was abused in the 1960s and has been a vocal campaigner against the exploitation of children; Dr. Sheila Hollins, a general practitioner and psychiatrist from the UK; Dr. Catherine Bonnet, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who works with victims of sexual abuse in France; former Polish prime minister Hanna Suchoka, Italian professor of law Claudio Papale; Fr. Humberto Miguel Yáñez of Argentina; and Fr. Hans Zollner of Germany.
At their first meeting, the members discussed their goals and proposed additional members to increase the committee’s geographical scope and range of expertise.
One of the long-term aims is to advise Pope Francis on “clear and effective” protocols for holding church officials who failed to report confirmed or suspected cases of abuse accountable for their silence.
“The protocols will address everyone [in the church] and will provide clear ways of dealing with those who perpetrate the abuse, and those who were negligent in protecting children,” O’Malley announced, adding that “Accountability should not be dependent on the legal obligations of a country, but upon moral considerations.”
“The commission wants to make sure that in the future, the issue of child abuse will be addressed worldwide, not patchily, and adhering to the highest standards,” Collins said.
"It is only the very beginning but the way we started out is very hopeful for the future and for the sort of change I and others have also called for in the past," she told the Irish Independent.
The commission’s first meeting came not a moment too soon for the church, which in February was subject to fierce criticism from a United Nations panel on the rights of the child. The panel alleged that the church has put its clergy and reputation ahead of the safety of children who were subject to abuse.
Yesterday, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva, was questioned by a panel from the UN’s Committee Against Torture on the scope of the Vatican’s responsibility. The Vatican has maintained that it is only responsible for enforcing the convention on torture, which was signed by the Holy See, within Vatican City.
The Committee Against Torture argues that the Vatican should enforce the rights outlined by the convention over everyone under its domain.