By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has given his safeguarding commission a “very clear” mandate to encourage and supervise the world’s bishops’ conferences in establishing survivor support centers and services, said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
“The Holy Father wants us to ensure that survivors receive a welcome and an open door when they appeal to the local church in their country. Outreach to survivors needs to be a priority for every part of our church,” he said April 29.
He said, “We will be working on establishing survivor support services at the level of each national church according to the instructions found in ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi,'” the 2019 papal document which established procedures for reporting allegations of sexual abuse and for holding accountable bishops and religious superiors who protect abusers.
The cardinal and other members of the papal commission spoke to reporters during a news conference at Vatican Radio immediately after their audience with Pope Francis. The commission was holding its plenary assembly in Rome.
Cardinal O’Malley said the pope “stressed that he wants us to have that responsibility to supervise, promote, encourage and report back to him on the progress that is made in fulfilling the mandates of ‘Vos Estis,'” he said.
Oblate Father Andrew Small, secretary “pro tempore” of the papal commission, told reporters it “seems to be the first time the commission has a formal role that’s been identified by the Holy Father in ‘Vos Estis,'” concerning the establishment of “centers of welcome, of healing, of understanding that were mandated” by the Vatican summit of heads of bishops’ conferences in 2019.
Another mandate the pope gave the safeguarding commission was to provide an annual audit of what the church is doing to protect minors and what needs to change. The annual report, which includes what the Roman Curia has been doing, is part of creating greater transparency and accountability, the pope has said.
Father Small said the pope told them that these reports will be part of their job to oversee, supervise and encourage the local churches and to report everything back to the pope, including “where things aren’t going well so that they can be improved.”
Transparency and accountability require “some sort of objective record, some sort of third-party verification that what we say is happening in safeguarding is actually happening” and to “evaluate whether we are getting better or not,” he said.
The idea of auditing reports “has been clearly working in the financial sector” so providing verifiable data “in the safeguarding sector seems to be the only way to rebuild trust,” he said.
“‘Trust, but verify,'” he said.
The reports also will be a good way to consolidate into one place all the positive and effective efforts that have been made, he added.
When asked whether the annual reports would be made public, Father Small said their job is to provide its work to the Holy Father, who, ultimately, “has the last word” on what would happen to them.
“I can’t imagine a world in which the report would not be published,” he said, because the pope linked the report as being instrumental in rebuilding “public trust.”
Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of sexual abuse and a member of the papal commission, thanked reporters for not succumbing to media or “societal fatigue” of the problem of abuse in the church.
It was important that the media continue to tell the stories of survivors — “those who were, those who are, those who will come because, unfortunately, this has not ended,” he said.
He said one of the services he hoped the centers would be able to provide survivors at some point would be the latest information about the status of their abuse case in the church because the lack of information about their allegation often re-traumatizes people.
“Vos Estis” provides for the first time a universal law that states that the victim has a right to be advised of the outcome of the investigation concerning crimes allegedly committed by people in leadership.
Cruz said he sometimes hears church leaders say, “Haven’t we done enough?” to which he replies, “No, we are going to follow up until the bitter end.”
Also, he said, the three-year “ad experimentum” norms of the 2019 “Vos Estis” document does not mean “it’s time for it to finish.” It means “it is going to be perfected.”
Cruz expressed how he feels when he hears about Catholics who publicly declare they have left the church because of the sexual abuse scandals.
He said his goal in being honest about the problems and what needs to be done is not to get people to leave the church; it’s “quite the opposite.”
“I’m staying in the church even though they said to me, ‘You’re not worthy of this, you’re not worthy of that.’ But I have stayed in the church because I am Catholic. I am proud of my religion, of my faith,” he said.
Pope Francis, he said, has helped him feel like a “sort of Lazarus, like I’ve resurrected from a really bad place” and now he is trying to help the church from within and would like others to help, too.
“We want people to gain trust, we want accountability in the church and we want things to change for everybody,” he said.