Papal commission incorporates global feedback in safeguarding guidelines

Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors meet during a plenary assembly at the Vatican Sept. 19, 2023. (CNS photo/Courtesy Anna Valsi)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Four months after soliciting public input on the development of safeguarding guidelines, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said it had reviewed 300 responses and 700 suggestions that "largely confirmed the approach adopted" for establishing rules and procedures to handle abuse in the Catholic Church.

The commission, which held its plenary assembly in Rome Sept. 20-22, began working on the second phase of its "Universal Guideline Framework" which will "provide clear criteria for local churches on how safeguarding policies and procedures can become effective," it said in a statement released Sept. 23.

The framework's first phase established 10 safeguarding principles, released in May, which called for safeguarding guidelines to have a formal place in local church structures, produce policies and practices for supporting victims and their families and be culturally responsive to the realities of local churches while empowering and educating individuals to create a safe environment in the church.

In June, the commission launched an online survey open to anyone interested in giving feedback on the proposed framework's application to local churches. The commission said it will continue incorporating the feedback it received until March 2024.

Phase two of the framework's development will involve "the issuing of five to seven criteria" related to each of the 10 principles in the framework and that point to certain skills required in each diocese to ensure the framework is being implemented, the commission said in its statement.

"Our church is a large entity that includes all peoples and nations so our task might seem daunting. But we have begun implementing a plan that encompasses the whole church in its different stages of development," Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston, commission president, said Sept. 23.

Meeting with representatives of a safeguarding research and formation center from Latin America at the Vatican Sept. 25, Pope Francis called abuse in the church "a pale reflection of a sad reality that embraces all humanity, and to which the necessary attention is not given."

"Our efforts should not be limited to the application of mere protocol," he added, "but we should entrust them to Jesus in prayer."

During the commission's plenary assembly, the pope had met with two members of LOUDfence, a U.K.-based victims' advocacy group, which works for greater welcome of survivors in the church.

In its Sept. 23 statement the commission said it has hosted 13 bishops' conferences during their "ad limina" visits to Rome since the start of the year "to review safeguarding policies and procedures, identify gaps and offer feedback and assistance at a local level."

In addition, it said that bishops' conferences have committed $2.5 million to a fund overseen by the commission to build safeguarding capacities in local churches in need of support. The commission said that 20 bishops' conferences and conferences of religious superiors with fewer resources have expressed desire in making use of the program, and that Cardinal O'Malley signed a memorandum of understanding between the commission and the church in the Central African Republic during the plenary assembly.

The commission said it spent an entire day working toward the drafting of an annual report on safeguarding in the church requested by the pope -- the "blueprint" of which will be made public before the end of September -- and is expected to be completed for the first time in 2024.



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