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Everything listed under: Sex abuse

  • Pope meets with abuse victims, promises accountability for those who failed to protect minors

    After meeting with five sex abuse victims in Philadelphia, Pope Francis told international bishops that the church owes them a debt of gratitude for bringing to light shameful crimes.

    "I am profoundly sorry. God weeps," the pope said of sexual abuse. He called abuse victims "true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy."

    The five were not all Catholic, and not all of them were victims of sexual abuse by priests. Some had been abused by a teacher or family member, the Vatican said. A spokesman later said that while previous such encounters had been with victims of abuse by clerics or other church personnel, this meeting had a "larger perspective."

    UPDATE: Here is the text of the pope's remarks after the encounter with victims:

    “I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorry of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart. I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm.

    I am profoundly sorry. God weeps. The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all.

    You survivors of abuse have yourselves become true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. We humbly owe each one of you and your families our gratitude for your immense courage to shine the light of Christ on the evil of the sexual abuse of children.”

    Earlier this year, Pope Francis approved a system of reporting and judging bishops who fail to protect minors, including a Vatican tribunal to determine whether a bishop is guilty of “abuse of office.”

    The Vatican said the pope met with three women and two men who had been abused as minors. The pope met with each, expressing his own "pain and shame" at their suffering. 

    Here is the Vatican statement on the encounter:

    This morning between 8:00 and 9:00 am, at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, the Holy Father received some victims of sexual abuse by the clergy or by members of their families or their teachers. The group consisted of five adults - three women, two men - who have suffered abuse when they were minors. Each person was accompanied by a family member or support person.

    The group was accompanied by Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Chair of the commission set up by the Pope for the protection of minors; by the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Most Reverend Charles Chaput and Bishop Fitzgerald, head of the Diocese of Philadelphia Office for the protection of minors.

    The Pope spoke with visitors, listening to their stories and offering them a few words together as a group and later listening to each one individually. He then prayed with them and expressed his solidarity in sharing their suffering, as well as his own pain and shame in especially in the case of injury caused them by clergy or church workers.

    Pope Francis reiterated the commitment of the Church so that all victims be heard and treated with justice; the guilty be punished and crimes of abuse be combated with an effective prevention program in the Church and in society. The Pope thanked the victims for their essential contribution to restore the truth and begin the journey of healing. The meeting lasted about half an hour and ended with the blessing of the Holy Father.

     

  • A new day in St. Paul-Minneapolis

    The resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt in St. Paul-Minneapolis came after nearly two years of patience at the Vatican, which generally prefers a bishop to put his diocese in order rather than be yanked from office. Despite Nienstedt's efforts to make some changes, it was clear that the problems were not going away.

    Filing for bankruptcy four months ago was bad, but worse came 10 days ago, when a local prosecutor announced he would bring charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children. That meant the drumbeat of bad news would continue for the foreseeable future.

    On Minnesota Public Radio this morning, I took a long look at the implications of the resignation and possible future steps. I've been a member of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese for a couple of years now, and I think many Catholics here recognize that Archbishop Nienstedt's departure will not solve all the problems.

    I'm glad the pope did not immediately name the archbishop's successor. I hope it is a sign that the Vatican is going to take the time to carefully evaluate the needs of the archdiocese. I see two key priorities. First, the Vatican should involve lay Catholics in the selection process. In practice, that can range from listening sessions in local parishes to canvassing for local candidates. We should move beyond the point where Rome's choices simply parachute in to dioceses, with no connection to their new flock.

    Second, the Vatican needs to choose someone who does not see the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis merely as a set of problems. There are many good people and good priests here, lively parishes and a history of service to others. These are invaluable resources, and a new archbishop will need them. 

     

     

  • Pope's sex abuse commission zeroes in on bishop's accountability


        Sex abuse survivor Peter Saunders and Cardinal Sean O'Malley

    For months, I’ve heard mixed reviews of Pope Francis’ efforts to confront the sex abuse scandal in the church.

    The pope generally gets high marks for two initiatives – his meeting with abuse victims last summer and his establishment of a Vatican child protection commission to strengthen and coordinate anti-abuse policies worldwide.

    Critics, however, have pointed out that the commission, established late in 2013, is still getting organized and setting priorities. That makes its current three-day meeting in Rome especially important. People are waiting to see what concrete changes will emerge.

    On Saturday we got a glimpse of the commission’s agenda from Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who heads the Vatican agency. Probably the most important disclosure was that the commission is drawing up recommendations for sanctioning bishops who have covered up abuse cases.

    To date, bishops’ accountability has been the missing element in the Vatican’s approach to the scandals. While Pope Francis has investigated and, in a couple of cases, removed bishops, there is no systematic procedure for discipline or dismissal when reporting guidelines are not followed.

    The assumption has always been that only the pope can “fire” a bishop – and that it’s almost impossible for the pope to follow details in every diocese. But the commission appears to be looking at a new way to bridge that gap.

    Cardinal O’Malley said a specific working group that includes canon lawyers is drawing up “policies that would allow the church to respond in an expeditious way when the bishop has not fulfilled his obligations.” He said work on the recommendations is nearly complete, and that they would be presented to the pope and “hopefully implemented.”

    “We think we have come up with some very practical recommendations that would help to remedy the situation that is such a source of anxiety to everybody on the commission,” O’Malley said.

    “Obviously, there have to be consequences” for such bishops, O’Malley said. He declined to say specifically what sanctions the commission had in mind.

    Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical sexual abuse who is also on the commission, said she considers the accountability issue crucial. If the commission’s recommendations are followed, she said, she felt confident that they would resolve the problem.

    “You have to have sanctions (for bishops), or it’s a waste of time,” she said.

    Asked about the fact that dismissal of a bishop is seen as only the pope’s prerogative, Collins said, “Currently, yes.” She said she could not elaborate at the present time.

    Cardinal O’Malley outlined several other initiatives by the commission and its various working groups:

    -- Each bishops’ conference around the world will be asked to name a contact person who will keep open a line of communication with the commission.

    -- The commission will work with the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation to suggest “best practices,” especially to bishops’ conferences, and will also present methods for measuring compliance. O’Malley said that only a small minority of bishops’ conferences, about 4 percent, have failed to draw up sex abuse guidelines, as requested by the Vatican in 2011. But he added that some of the guidelines that have been devised were too weak.

    -- The commission is developing educational seminars on sexual abuse for Roman Curia officials and new bishops who come to Rome for orientation.

    -- A church-wide Day of Prayer for all those harmed by sexual abuse is being prepared, to aid spiritual healing.

    -- The commission is asking Catholic funding organizations to include child protection in the guidelines for eligibility for funding, and to award grants to countries that lack resources to deal with sexual abuse.

    -- One of the commission’s working groups is reaching out systematically to survivors and survivor groups, so they can participate in the overall work of the commission. One commission member said it was proposed to request cooperation from U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, a group that has been sharply critical of the pope, the Vatican and local dioceses on the sex abuse issue.

    Beyond the details of commission projects, what was striking about the Vatican press conference was the change in attitude, compared to years past. When the sex abuse scandal exploded in 2002, Vatican officials were often defensive and dismissive, suggesting that the problem was being blown out of proportion by lawyers and the media.

    At Saturday’s meeting with the press, the Vatican went out of its way to make commission members available to reporters, including the two victim survivors serving on the panel, who spoke bluntly about church failures.

    Peter Saunders, a British survivor who was abused by two priests and others for five years, was outspoken in his call for bishops’ accountability, saying there had been “an abysmal record of so many ill-judged responses by priests and dioceses around the world.”

    Saunders said the commission was also looking at how experts can study the deeper causes of sexual abuse. He said one factor that should be studied is priestly celibacy, although he made clear that he did not think celibacy led to abuse.

    “In my version of the Bible, Jesus never said, ‘If you want to follow me, you have to be celibate,’” Saunders said.


  • Pope Francis asks bishops for their 'complete cooperation' with Vatican sex abuse commission

    Pope Francis has written to the world’s bishops and the heads of religious orders, urging them to take “whatever steps are necessary” to protect children from sexual abuse by clerics and provide psychological and spiritual assistance to victims.

    Families need to know the church is “making every effort to protect their children,” the pope said.

    “Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse children,” he said.

    The letter was released Thursday at the Vatican, the day before the start of a three-day meeting of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, which the pope established in 2013. The pope recently added new members to the commission, which includes two sex abuse victims.

    Francis asked bishops and religious superiors to give their full cooperation with the Vatican commission, especially in exchanging best practices and developing programs of education, training and response to sexual abuse.

    He also insisted on full compliance with a 2011 Vatican document that called on bishops’ conferences around the world to draw up guidelines for handling sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Once norms are established, he added, the conferences should establish practical means to guarantee that they are being followed.

    The pope said his meeting with sex abuse victims at the Vatican last summer had deeply moved him and left him even more convinced that “everything possible must be done to rid the church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused.”

    He called specifically on bishops and superiors of religious orders to establish programs that provide psychological assistance and spiritual care to victims. He said pastors should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones.

    “Such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those who have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness,” he said.

     




  • Bishop Finn investigation is another sign that accountability is on Pope Francis' agenda

    The news that the Vatican is investigating the pastoral leadership of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., is another sign that Pope Francis is willing to tackle the problem of bishops’ accountability in a new way.

    The National Catholic Reporter reported that, at the Vatican’s request, Canadian Archbishop Terrence Prendergast visited the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese for several days last week, asking more than a dozen interview subjects questions about Finn’s leadership abilities. A spokesperson for the diocese later confirmed the investigation and said Finn was “cooperating with the process.”

    Two years ago, a civil court convicted Finn on misdemeanor charges of failing to report suspected child abuse, in connection with the child pornography conviction of a local priest. The bishop was sentenced to two years’ probation.

    News of the Vatican investigation comes on the heels of the pope’s removal of a Paraguayan bishop who had been criticized, among other things, for his promotion of a priest accused of child abuse.

    Catholics in Missouri have called for Finn’s resignation, but until now there was no sign that the Vatican was paying any attention. For many Catholics, in fact, Bishop Finn has come to represent a bishop’s protected status and the Vatican’s unwillingness to take action on mishandling of sex abuse cases.

    Earlier this year, Catholics in Finn’s diocese wrote to the apostolic nuncio, the Vatican’s representative in the United States, asking for a canonical review of Finn. It appears the nuncio and the pope were listening.

    There have been several recent signs that the Vatican is taking a new look at holding bishops to account for mistakes, particularly in handling of sex abuse allegations. Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a former key official of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, pointed out in a speech last year that under church law bishops can lose their office for abuse or negligence in ministry.

    His point was echoed more recently by U.S. Father Robert W. Oliver, Scicluna's successor at the doctrinal congregation, who said it was a “crime” under church law for a bishop to be negligent in supervision.

    Pope Francis, when he met with sex abuse victims last summer at the Vatican, apologized for “sins of omission” by church leaders and said bishops “will be held accountable.”


  • Theologians warn of spiritual crisis, 'pastoral breakdown' over sex abuse cases in St. Paul-Minneapolis


     Archbishop John Nienstedt

    Theology professors at the University of St. Thomas have warned of a “pastoral breakdown” following sex abuse revelations in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. They said Archbishop John Nienstedt needs to take a series of bold new public steps to heal the wounds and salvage his own leadership role.

    (UPDATE: See below Archbishop Nienstedt’s response to the letter, in which he said he has already taken many of the steps proposed by the theologians. He also asked those who signed the letter for a meeting and discussion.)

    A sharply worded letter signed by 12 tenured members of the university’s theology department and delivered to Nienstedt on Saturday called on the archbishop to “leave the legal talk to the lawyers” and become more personally involved in rebuilding trust with the faithful of his archdiocese.

    The letter suggested that Nienstedt begin the process of spiritual healing by leading a penitential liturgy, modeled on the late Pope St. John Paul II’s millennial apology for the past failings of the church.

    At the same time, it said, the archbishop needs to communicate more directly about the scandal with the people and parishes under his care, and “make a fresh effort to listen to them.” Naming another committee or supervisory body to investigate the situation is not enough, it said.

    “Trust within the Church and between the Church and the local community has been badly broken. Indeed, the office of Archbishop itself has been gravely damaged by the facts exposed in the lawsuits,” it said.

    As part of the response, the theologians said, lay Catholics should be given more positions of responsibility in priestly formation, governance of the archdiocese and management of the scandal. They said the sex abuse revelations have shown that problems in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese are “systemic, the product of a long-standing and deeply entrenched clericalism that does not have to be the corollary of the ordained priestly ministry.”

    The letter stopped short of calling for Nienstedt’s resignation, but said the archbishop could not recover trust without changing his approach. “We believe that without such public steps the pastoral state of the archdiocese is not sustainable,” it said.

    The theology professors cited Pope Francis’ recent statement that a bishop is “not isolated, but with the church” and at the service of his flock.

    “Recent events have shown how badly the pastoral leadership of the Archdiocese has failed to meet those expectations,” the letter said. It said the failures were not only in sexual abuse by priests, but also in how those scandals have been handled.

    The letter noted the distinguished history of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, and stated: “The current crisis is a grave blot on that history. Legal action alone will not remove it.”

    Archbishop Nienstedt has faced calls for resignation from some local priests, Catholic donors and news outlets following a series of accusations that he and his aides concealed sex abuse allegations about priests serving in the archdiocese.

    Nienstedt has acknowledged making mistakes, and has accepted the recommendations of a task force that called for closer review and monitoring of clerical abuse. He said in July that the archdiocese is better able to deal with such cases today, and that he had no intention of resigning.

    Archbishop Nienstedt has also been the subject of an internal church investigation regarding allegations that he engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with adult seminarians. Nienstedt has called the allegations “absolutely and entirely false.”

    Those signing the letter represent most of the tenured St. Thomas theology faculty, and include department chair Bernard Brady; Massimo Faggioli, who has written extensively on the Second Vatican Council; Gerald Schlabach, a teacher of Christian ethics; and Michael J. Hollerich, an expert in early church history.

    In a response released by the archdiocese Monday, Archbishop Nienstedt thanked the theologians but said he had already taken initiatives in the same direction as their suggestions.

    Nienstedt said he recently announced a series of “healing Masses designed for all those who feel they have been hurt by the church.” In addition, he said, he has met with abuse victims and their families, has reached out to community and parish leaders to talk, and often spends weekends participating in unpublicized parish events.

    As for an increased lay role, Nienstedt noted that the archdiocese recently hired Judge Timothy O’Malley as director of the newly created Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment. The archbishop said the majority of his leadership team are lay people, and his primary advisors are all laity.

    “I am very sorry for anything I or my predecessors have done to cause Catholics to doubt their faith or the sacred trust that is placed in Church leadership,” Nienstedt said. He added that he was “grateful” for the theologians’ advice.

    “I’m thankful we share the same desire to help the Church and would welcome a meeting to discuss how we can work together to help bring the Word of God to His people,” he said.

    Here is the text of the theologians’ letter:

    Letter to the Archbishop of St. Paul – Minneapolis, the Most Reverend John Nienstedt and to the local Church

    “To the extent of their knowledge, competence or authority, the laity are entitled and sometimes duty-bound to express their opinion on matters which concern the good of the Church” (Vatican Council II, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”, Lumen Gentium, par. 37).

    The people of God rightly expect bishops to be good stewards of the Lord’s household. As Pope Francis has said, “The bishop, as a witness of Christ, is not isolated, but with the Church . . . The episcopate is not for the bishop himself, but for the Church, for the flock, and for others” (Address to the Congregation for the Bishops, February 27, 2014). Recent events have shown how badly the pastoral leadership of the Archdiocese has failed to meet those expectations. We refer not only to the multi-faceted sexual abuse scandal itself but also to the manner in which these scandals have been handled.

    The harm done affects first of all the victims themselves. But it touches the lives of all of us as members of the Church, including our efforts as professional theologians to represent the Catholic faith and the Catholic intellectual tradition in an honest and credible way to our students, their parents, our alumni, and our colleagues and friends. As theologians and educators, we offer proposals that may open a path toward recovery from the pastoral breakdown we are witnessing. We do so reluctantly and wish to emphasize that we remain committed to working and praying for the good of the whole archdiocese, including its pastoral leadership. We also want to recognize the criticisms and insights already offered by several of our women colleagues in their letter published on July 25, 2014.

         Leave the legal talk to the lawyers; bring pastoral talk to the people. The Archdiocese is in a spiritual crisis as well as a legal crisis. The resolution of the legal actions now underway will not undo the spiritual damage. While we support the rights of the victims of sexual crimes to justice and hope that resolutions of the lawsuits will offer appropriate restitution that leads to their healing, we know that no legal decision will heal the damage done to the Body of Christ. A process of spiritual healing could begin within an appropriate liturgical setting and with you taking the initiative. Consider using the Rite of Reconciliation as a model for how this might be done in various places around the Archdiocese. Think about the example set by Pope St. John Paul II’s millennial apology for the failings of the Church. We believe that the people of the Archdiocese would welcome such gestures towards reconciliation.

         Re-introduce yourself to the people and parishes that are our Archdiocese. Trust within the Church and between the Church and the local community has been badly broken. Indeed, the office of Archbishop itself has been gravely damaged by the facts exposed in the lawsuits. Announcing the creation of another committee or supervisory body can only go partway towards restoring that trust. We believe that restoring a trust worthy of your office will only come fully through your personal commitment to developing a more open and immediate relationship with people around the Archdiocese. You need to make a fresh effort to listen to them and to get to know them better – people from all walks of life, those who are already receptive to you and those who may not be.

         Engage lay people in the important work of the Archdiocese. The current situation will not be improved without greater lay involvement in the Archdiocese. Lay people must be placed in positions of responsibility in priestly formation, in the governance of the Archdiocese, and especially in the management of the scandal. The harsh light now being shone on the inner governance of the Archdiocese makes clear that the problems are not merely personal. They are systemic, the product of a long-standing and deeply entrenched clericalism that does not have to be the corollary of the ordained priestly ministry.

    We believe that without such public steps the pastoral state of the archdiocese is not sustainable. The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has had a distinguished place in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. The current crisis is a grave blot on that history. Legal action alone will not remove it.

    St. Paul, MN September 12, 2014

    Signed by the following tenured members of the Theology Department of the University of St. Thomas:

    Cara Anthony
    Bernard Brady
    Massimo Faggioli
    Paul Gavrilyuk
    Michael Hollerich
    John Martens
    Stephen McMichael
    Paul Niskanen
    David Penchansky
    Gerald Schlabach
    Ted Ulrich
    Paul Wojda

     

    Here is the text of Archbishop Nienstedt’s response:

    September 15, 2014

    Dear Dr. Anthony, Dr. Brady, Dr. Faggioli, Dr. Gavrilyuk, Dr. Hollerich, Dr. Martens, Dr. McMichael, Dr. Niskanen, Dr. Penchansky, Dr. Schlabach, Dr. Ulrich, and Dr. Wojda,

    Thank you for your recent letter with your proposals and suggestions. I appreciate your interest in helping people draw closer to Jesus Christ and I am grateful for your service to the students of the University of St. Thomas. I know that many have recently had difficult conversations with friends and family about why they still continue to profess their faith. I am very sorry for anything I or my predecessors have done to cause Catholics to doubt their faith or the sacred trust that is placed in Church leadership.

    I am grateful, too, for your thoughtful advice and your willingness to share it. Please allow me to address the suggestions you listed:

    • Leave the legal talk to the lawyers; bring pastoral talk to the people.

    Many Catholics have shared with me the same pain you are describing, and I have taken the initiative to move in the direction you are suggesting. In last week’s issue of The Catholic Spirit is an article on the first of a series of healing Masses designed for all those who feel they have been hurt by the Church. We are working with local pastors to communicate the information about these Masses to the faithful. Here’s a link: http://thecatholicspirit.com/news/local-news/masses-healing-reconciliation-hope-offered-archdiocese.

    The theme of healing and reconciliation is at the heart of these liturgies, which can provide powerful prayer experiences for those who have been wounded or those who know others who are suffering.

    • Re-introduce yourself to the people and parishes that are our Archdiocese.

    The reason I became a priest was to become involved in the lives of people, and I appreciate every opportunity I have to do so. I have met and continue to meet with victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families and their friends. I am also reaching out to community leaders, ecumenical leaders and parish leaders to talk and learn about how we can be a part of the healing process. I often spend my weekends celebrating Mass at local parishes or going to community events. I have not publicized these events, but they are happening on a regular basis.

    • Engage lay people in the important work of the Archdiocese.

    I agree with this suggestion, and to that end we have most recently hired Judge Timothy O’Malley for the newly created position of Director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment. Here’s a link to the story in The Catholic Spirit:

    http://thecatholicspirit.com/featured/new-director-bring-street-smarts-archdioceses-child-protection-efforts/

    The fact of the matter is that the majority of my leadership team are lay people, a few of whom are not Catholic. Aside from our auxiliary bishops, Bishop Piché and Bishop Cozzens, and our vicar general, Fr. Lachowitzer, my primary advisors are all laity. In addition, lay people make up the majority of the boards that provide me with advice and consultation, and I do listen to them.

    I’m thankful we share the same desire to help the Church and would welcome a meeting to discuss how we can work together to help bring the Word of God to His people. Please let me know if that would be of interest to you.

    May God bless you and your ministry,

    The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt

  • The Vatican commission on sex abuse takes shape


    Marie Collins, an abuse survivor, named to Vatican panel

    Pope Francis today named eight members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including an Irish victim of clerical sexual abuse.

    This core group of the commission, which includes four women, has been asked to further define the scope of the panel's responsibilities and recommend additional members.

    The Vatican said the commission would promote “a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large.”

    The commission includes Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Catholic experts from seven other countries. Most are from Europe, but the Vatican said additional members would be found from other continents. Among the eight are specialists in human rights, church and civil law, moral theology and psychology.

    The Irish commission member, Marie Collins, is a well-known sex abuse survivor who has actively campaigned for investigation of sex abuse by priests. She was recently critical of a statement by the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, which questioned whether some priests who had made “mistakes” early in life should continue to be excluded from ministry.

    Here is the list of the members announced by the Vatican, and a statement by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi:

    The Holy Father Francis has instituted the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was announced on Dec. 5, 2013, and called to be a part of it:

    Dr. Catherine Bonnet (France)

    Mrs. Marie Collins (Ireland)

    Prof. the Baroness Sheila Hollins (United Kingdom)

    Card. Sean Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap (U.S.)

    Prof. Claudio Papale (Italy)

    Her Excellency Hanna Suchocka (Poland)

    Rev. Humberto Miguel Yañez, SJ (Argentina)

    Rev. Hans Zollner, SJ (Germany)

    Their principal role will be to prepare the Statutes of the Commission, which will define its tasks and competencies. Other members will be added to the Commission in the future, chosen from various geographical areas of the world.

    Brief biographies of the members can be found here.

    Comment by Father Lombardi:

    As Blessed John Paul II declared, "People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young…. So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church" (Address of John Paul II to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002). 

    In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as we commit ourselves to the safeguarding of minors, we need "to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes" (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Irish Bishops, 28 October 2006).

    Continuing the work undertaken by his predecessors, and having heard the advice of a number of Cardinals, other members of the College of Bishops, and experts in the field, and having duly deliberated, Pope Francis now is forming a Commission for the safeguarding of minors.

    Pope Francis has made clear that the Church must hold the protection of minors amongst Her highest priorities. Today, to carry forward this initiative, the Holy Father announces the names of several highly qualified persons who are committed to this issue.

    This initial group is now called to work expeditiously to assist in several tasks, including: participating in the deliberations concerning the Commission’s final structure; describing the scope of its responsibilities; and developing the names of additional candidates, especially from other continents and countries, who can offer service to the Commission.

    Certain that the Church has a critical role to play in this field, and looking to the future without forgetting the past, the Commission will take a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large.

    In this way, and with the help of God, this Commission will contribute to the Holy Father’s mission of upholding the sacred responsibility of ensuring the safety of young people.

  • Cardinal Mahony: The conclave's lightning rod

    What’s being called the “Mahony affair” has taken center stage in Italian press coverage of the upcoming conclave, with expressions of outrage that the Los Angeles cardinal accused of covering up sex abuse by priests would come to Rome for the papal election.

    Cardinal Roger Mahony announced through his blog that he intends to participate in the conclave, just a few weeks after he was removed from “administrative or public duties" as retired archbishop of Los Angeles because of past failures to protect children from clergy sex abuse.

    After a U.S. Catholic lay group urged Mahony to stay home, the popular Italian weekly “Famiglia Cristiana” on Feb. 18 asked online readers whether the cardinal should participate in the conclave. Not surprisingly, the vast majority said no.

    One typical comment: “Cardinal Mahony should not only stay home from the conclave but retire to a life of prayer in a monastery.” Another sarcastically suggested that Mahony be allowed to participate only if he could make his way to Rome by swimming and walking, as a form of penitence.

    “Revolt Against Cardinal Mahony” was the headline in the Rome daily La Repubblica, which quoted Cardinal Velasio De Paolis as saying Mahony should examine his conscience on the matter.

    Most Vatican officials have avoided public comment on Mahony, but privately there is apprehension about what his presence would mean for the conclave. It risks leaving the impression that Mahony has to be hidden away in his home archdiocese, but can fly to Rome and take his seat as a member of the world’s most exclusive club, and help elect the next pope.

    Moreover, Mahony is scheduled to make a deposition Feb. 23 regarding a 30-year-old case of abuse, which could raise new legal questions.

    Church officials and fellow cardinals, however, are equally concerned at the public campaign being brought to bear. The Vatican spokesman earlier this week warned against a “conclave of the media,” and church leaders in Rome are extremely wary of outside pressure affecting the way the conclave works.

    If Mahony is hounded out of the conclave for his mishandling of abuse cases, who might be next? they ask. Several other cardinals who will be voting for the next pope have been criticized by their own faithful for the way they dealt with abuse accusations.

    While most of the cardinals’ deliberations in Rome will be private, the papal transition also features a number of public liturgies. One can imagine news cameras focusing on Cardinal Mahony, and microphones continually thrust in front of other cardinals with the question: “Should Mahony be here?”

    Vatican officials maintain that Cardinal Mahony has the right to participate in the conclave and that -- barring an intervention from Pope Benedict -- it’s his call.

    Note: Cardinal Bernard Law, who left Boston in disgrace in 2002 in the wake of clerical sex abuse revelations, participated in the conclave of 2005. But he had been out of the United States and, in a sense, off the radar after being given a ceremonial position in Rome in 2004.

    When Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who was himself accused of sexual misconduct, relinquished all his privileges as archbishop and cardinal in 1998, it was reportedly with the proviso that he would not participate in a conclave. But the issue never came up, as Groer turned 80 the next year and died in 2003.