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Pope Francis Speaks on Child Protection, Encourages Board Amidst Challenges

Vatican City – On Friday, May 5, 2023, Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Commission for child protection, seeking to encourage the board after weeks of turmoil following the resignation of a founding member and questions about its direction. 

“It is not right that the most prosperous areas of the world should have well-trained and well-funded safeguarding programs, where victims and their families are respected, while in other parts of the world they suffer in silence, perhaps rejected or stigmatized when they try to come forward to tell of the abuse they have suffered,” Francis said.

Boston Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, who serves as the head of the commission, spoke at a press conference at The Vatican following the meeting.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was established by Pope Francis in 2013 to advise him on the prevention of sexual abuse of minors by clergy and other Church personnel. The commission is made up of a diverse group of experts, including survivors of clerical abuse, and has been credited with helping to push the Vatican to take a more aggressive stance on the issue.

However, the commission has faced several challenges in recent weeks. Founding member,   Rev. Hans Zollner, resigned from the commission in April, citing frustration with the slow pace of reform and resistance from Vatican officials. His departure sparked questions about the commission’s effectiveness and direction.

Zollner highlighted issues of financial accountability, decision-making transparency, and ambiguity around member roles and appointments. These criticisms by Zollner bring attention to the larger concerns regarding the purpose and direction of the commission. The Vatican’s bureaucracy is inherently resistant to change and is particularly defensive about the abuse dossier, making it challenging for the commission to establish its position.

During his address to the commission, Pope Francis acknowledged the difficulties the board has faced but encouraged its members to continue their work. He recognized that the sex abuse scandal has had a detrimental effect on the Church’s capacity to fulfill its primary mission of spreading the Gospel.

“A culture of safeguarding will only take root if there is a pastoral conversion in this regard among the church’s leaders,” he said.

Under the leadership of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the commission has relocated to a new, upscale location in a downtown Rome palazzo. The commission hopes that this new facility will serve as a safe space for victims to come forward and receive support.

Furthermore, during the meeting with Pope Francis on Friday, Cardinal O’Malley informed him that the commission had created a 3 million euro fund to provide safeguarding resources to under-resourced churches in developing countries. The Italian Bishops’ Conference has contributed the bulk of this funding, totaling 2.5 million euros, despite having received criticism for its own inaction in addressing predator priests in Italy and the bishops who protected them.

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