New Vatican Site for “Protection of Minors”

The Vatican announced its new web site (here). In NCR’s coverage of the story (here), they noted that back in December 2013, Pope Francis identified juvenile sex abuse as a high priority. He created a new commission, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), to lead the attack against child abuse.

 Pope Francis defined its mission in his “Chirograph” of March 2014:

“The Commission’s specific task is to propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church. The Commission is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.”

After three years, this web site is effectively its first deliverable.

What does the site do?

The site has three major sections. The first, called “The Commission,” lists the members, and provides a brief history, including the mission statement cited above.

The second section, “Resources,” is the key area for those seeking assistance. The primary resource is a “template” for local churches to use to develop guidelines. It is a guideline for guidelines. It covers some relatively abstract legal and official niceties, but no concrete procedures to address the problem. The section also lists some educational programs for clerics.

The only concrete “resource” is “Healing Through Prayer.” The central prayer is:

   May all those who have been abused physically, emotionally and sexually by your ministers, be respected and accompanied by tangible gestures of justice and reparation so that they may feel healed with the balm of your compassion.

     We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord

     Amen

Note that the commission asks Jesus for “tangible gestures of justice and reparation.” This is quite different from commanding bishops to provide justice and reparations. But in any case, PCPM provides concrete procedures for “healing” victims through prayer - unlike their fuzzy guidelines on guidelines for preventing crimes.

The third section, “The Church and Safeguarding,” basically lists a series of memorandums – some delivered as papal addresses – dating from 2002. None contain anything like concrete methods and procedures. They basically say, “someone ought to do something about this,” along with exhortations.

What do parents of potential victims want?

I can only speculate about this. But I suspect that few parents of potential victims will find the site to be of much use. Parents of actual victims may find some comfort in the prayer.

The most obvious thing that parents want is a list of priests that might endanger their children. This should hardly come as a surprise. In the United States, about 10% of bishops already have a web site that lists the names of “credibly accused” priests. Obviously, 100% of the bishops have such information, but about 90% decline to share it.

Starting in the 1980’s, Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II required all bishops to send the Vatican (CDF) the records of priests accused of abuse. The Vatican or PCPM could have put a list of “credibly accused” priests on their web site. They did not. The PCPM guidelines do not even suggest that bishops inform their flock of them. Note that “credibly accused” is a euphemism for “obviously guilty as hell.” While it is a legitimate goal to protect the reputations of the innocent, there is little chance that these priests are innocent. In any case, protecting the welfare of children should be far more important.

Evaluation of the New Vatican Site

This seems to be an exercise in CYA – much like creating the commission was. There is almost nothing in the site for the flock, and bishops have long had access to the types of guidelines and addresses contained on it. While the religious media usually lavishes praise on anything the Vatican puts out, they said little about the site. Mainstream media did not even cover it, presumably feeling there was nothing newsworthy about it.

I disagree. It is remarkable that this is the best PCPM could do after three years of work on one of the Church’s highest priorities. The Vatican cares far more about protecting its priests than its flock. This response to a major crisis is worse than pathetic. And it is newsworthy.