Vatican abuse commission gains second abuse survivor, several women

Rome — Pope Francis has added members to the new Vatican commission advising him on safeguarding children from sexual abuse, appointing an additional eight people to the commission from diverse global backgrounds and professional experience.

Among the new appointments, which the Vatican announced Wednesday: an English survivor of clergy sexual abuse, a woman religious who serves as the secretary general of an pan-African episcopal conference, and several psychologists and psychotherapists from different parts of the world.

The new appointments raise the total number of members of the commission to 17; eight are women. They also diversify the global spread of the group: seven members come from Europe, two from Latin America, three from Asia and Oceania, two from Africa, and three from the U.S.

The Vatican announced the commission, officially the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, in December 2013 in an effort to show the importance Francis is placing on stopping abuse and working pastorally with abuse survivors.

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who is also a member of Francis nine-member Council of Cardinals, is the commission president. Msgr. Robert Oliver, a priest of the Boston archdiocese who previously served at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is its secretary.

New members announced Wednesday include Peter Saunders, an English survivor of clerical sexual abuse who founded the U.K.-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood, a group that supports survivors and develops resources to respond to child abuse.

Saunders becomes the second abuse survivor on the commission, joining Irishwoman Marie Collins. Saunders was also one of a group of six abuse survivors who met with the pope at the Vatican in July, during the pontiff's first such meeting with survivors.

Other new members are Charity Sr. Kayula Lesa from Zambia and Precious Blood Sr. Hermenegild Makoro from South Africa.

Makoro is secretary general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, one of a handful of women globally who have served in such capacity.

The abuse commission is to hold a plenary meeting of its members Feb. 6-8 at the Vatican.

What role the new commission will play in the Vatican's central bureaucracy and how it will function on a day-to-day basis remains unknown. O'Malley, who was in Rome last week for a meeting of the Council of Cardinals, said on his blog Dec. 12 that the commission had just received office space in the Vatican.

The Council of Cardinals is a group of nine cardinals advising the pope on reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. O'Malley's blog post included several photos of the commission's new office space, showing spare rooms with only tables and chairs and no other furniture or decorations.

Among the other members of the commission announced Wednesday:

  • Krysten Winter-Green, a New Zealand expert in theology and social work living in the U.S. who advises the Boston archdiocese and has focused research on HIV/AIDS;
  • Kathleen McCormack, an Australian who served for 29 years as director of the social services agency of the Catholic diocese of Wollongong;
  • Gabriel Dy-Liacco, a native Filipino who is an assistant professor at the Regent University School of Psychology and Counseling in Maryland;
  • Fr. Luis Ali Herrera, a Colombian psychologist and professor of pastoral psychology;
  • Bill Kilgallon, the director of the New Zealand Catholic church's Office for Professional Standards, which deals with complaints of clerical abuse in the country.

Saunders' appointment alongside Collins to the commission may again draw additional attention to the issue of accountability for bishops. At a press conference before his visit with the pope in July, Saunders called on the pope to hand over all information about abusive priests to state authorities.

"We need the pope to say, 'I will hand over all the information I have about abusing priests wherever they are in the world. I will hand it over to the authorities of the countries where these people are being protected,' " he said then, also calling the conduct of the church in response to sexual abuse "absolutely outrageous."

O'Malley has said the commission will address the lack of a formal system of accountability for bishops who shield abusive priests or mishandle cases of priests suspected of abuse.

O'Malley was questioned about that issue in an interview with "60 Minutes" last month, when the interviewer asked him specifically about the case of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, the first U.S. prelate found criminally guilty of shielding a priest accused of abuse.

"One of the first things that we came up was the importance of accountability and we're looking at how the church can have protocols and how to respond when a bishop has not been responsible for protection of children in his diocese," O'Malley stated in the interview, talking about the initial work of the commission.

Collins has likewise campaigned for a more thorough investigation of clergy accused of abuse, saying at a summit held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in 2012 that when she reported her abuse to church authorities, they refused to take action against the priest.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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