Member of Pope's anti-abuse panel insists, 'The Church is not failing'

Member of Pope’s anti-abuse panel insists, ‘The Church is not failing’

Member of Pope’s anti-abuse panel insists, ‘The Church is not failing’

Teresa Kettelkamp, left, with other members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in a radio station in Zambia in 2017. (Credit: PCPM.)

Teresa Kettelkamp, a former staffer for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and now a full member, says of the anti-abuse fight, “The Church is not failing on this issue, the Church is aggressively addressing it … People who want things to change faster are not realistic about how things change.”

ROME – After a former member of Pope Francis’s key advisory body on the fight against sexual abuse charged that letters from victims are not answered, a new member of the same panel and a former staffer responded that it’s “meticulous in responding to all correspondence from victims.”

French child psychiatrist Catherine Bonnet made the charge in an interview with French news outlet L’Express, in which she suggested that Pope Francis needs to make the anti-abuse effort “a priority now.”

A failure to respond to victims’ correspondence was also a key element in Bonnet’s indictment.

“When [abuse victims] send letters, we do not answer them! Marie Collins found this point particularly unbearable,” Bonnet said, adding that in her 35 years of experience working in this field, the testimonies of survivors are essential.

RELATED: Former papal adviser says Francis needs to make sex abuse a priority

Teresa Kettelkamp, who was hired by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in January 2016 to assist in its Rome office in the development of anti-abuse guidelines around the world, says that in terms of responding to victims, while not commenting on the practice in other Vatican departments, responding to victims is actually a high priority for the commission.

“The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is meticulous in responding to all correspondence from victims,” she said. “In fact, [projects manager and media coordinator] Emer [McCarthy] worked tirelessly with [former commission member] Marie Collins to develop a strong correspondence protocol, which was followed.”

A former Illinois state police colonel and later director of the U.S. Bishops’ Child Protection Office, Kettelkamp has returned to Illinois, but in mid-February was named a full member of the commission.

In a Feb. 20 Crux interview, Kettelkamp also insisted that “the Church is not failing” when it comes to the effort to prevent sexual abuse.

“Sometimes, people just love for the Catholic Church to fail,” she said. “The Church is not failing on this issue, the Church is aggressively addressing it … maybe not as fast as other people would want to see done, but it’s a change in culture, in a lot of cultures …People who want things to change faster are not realistic about how things change.”

Kettelkamp insisted that people outside the commission often can’t perceive the positive contributions it’s making.

“As with all organizations, what you see publicly oftentimes doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the work and effort that goes on behind the scenes,” she said. “In just a short period of time, members … put together guidelines, had meetings with victims, are exploring ways to have the commission hear the voice of victims, worked on canon law issues, worked on a Day of Prayer, [and] worked on educational components.”

“Oftentimes,” she said, “what the public waits for is a huge, huge announcement, but progress is made step by step.”

The transcript of the Crux interview with Kettelkamp is below.

Crux: You’re back on the commission, but in a different role. What’s your reaction to the new situation?

Kettlekamp: It was a shock to me, first of all. I worked in the office and thought that was the job of a lifetime. I focused on guidelines, healing and caring, and I staffed a number of the working groups. I loved the work, loved Rome, and I never expected in a million years to be appointed to the commission.

What I was hoping was that they would continue to tap me for different projects. For instance, I’m working with Monsignor Rossetti and Mother Consolata on populating a website for episcopal conferences with resources. My dream was to continue doing that, that they would ask me to continue to review guidelines, develop programs they could use, whatever. I never, ever thought I would be appointed as a member.

When the cardinal called me, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ I remember distinctly where I was and what I was doing, and I looked down at my phone and it said ‘Cambridge, Massachusetts,’ but it didn’t have any type of ID. Usually I don’t answer those, but I thought, ‘That’s kind of cool.’ It was him. I just kind of went blank from there … he asked if I’d be willing to be a member of the commission, and I just asked, ‘Are you sure? Are you serious?’ It’s the honor of a lifetime.

Who would think? Let’s be honest. I’m a little piece of sand, I’m not a big dog. I have some solid skill sets, I think, but come on, I live in this little Cape Cod house in Springfield, Illinois. If anything, I feel like Bernadette … not that I would ever compare myself to a saint … but just talk about how the Holy Spirit surprises you! That’s how I think. I think I’m a little bitty fish in a little bitty pond, and God has graced me with certain gifts. I am blown away.

What are the challenges waiting for the commission now?

The challenge is not to lose the momentum that the founding members started. When you think that they were selected and had to gel, had to come together as a group, and all that they did in three years with only meeting twice a year, it’s pretty amazing.

The challenge for this group is to move the ball further, and really hear the voice of victims and to work in all corners of the world to foster guidelines to protect the vulnerable and minors. The momentum cannot be lost, and it’s easy, because the landscape is so huge, to become frustrated or overwhelmed, or to get complacent. This group just can’t do that. They have a huge responsibility for children.

I’m doing a talk in California, and what I’m basing it on is Psalm 139: “I am wonderfully and fearfully made.” That’s going to be my push, which is that if we believe in the sanctity of life, we can’t not do this as a Church, to protect children.

Many people looking at the commission from afar, seeing the resignation of two members, seeing that there often seems to be little news coming from it, may wonder what its accomplishments really are over the last three years. How would you answer?

You know, I think that is a very fair question. As with all organizations, what you see publicly oftentimes doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the work and effort that goes on behind the scenes. This is the first commission a pope has established for the protection of minors. In just this short period of time from the beginning, the members were selected, they worked hard, they put together guidelines, they had meetings with victims, they’re exploring ways to have the commission hear the voice of victims, they worked on canon law issues, they worked on a Day of Prayer, they worked on educational components with the Gregorian – Father Hans Zollner, Monsignor Oliver, and others on the commission did a lot of teaching.

Oftentimes, what the public waits for is a huge, huge announcement, but progress is made step by step. There’s a huge tulip field in Sweden, or Belgium, and it’s beautiful. They asked the lady, how do you get such a beautiful field? She said, I planted one tulip at a time. That’s what people don’t see … they don’t see the committee meetings, they don’t see the conference calls, they see where the commission meets twice a year and they expect these big announcements. But a lot of work goes on all during the year. There were six working committees, they were very active … they were chaired by people who are very busy in their own right. They’re people with humungous jobs back home.

There’s lots of work at the office, lots of support, lots of research, lots of phone calls, but the public doesn’t see that. It takes an army to get something like this off the ground, and the founding members did a phenomenal job setting up that foundation. That’s usually not very visible.

Much has been made about how the commission “lapsed.” Did you experience it as a major lapse, and did you ever have any doubt that the work of the commission would go forward?

Never any doubt at all. It’s just too much of a key issue for the cardinal and the pope. When I first got to Rome, I was asked, is the slowness of the Vatican frustrating to you? I naively said, ‘Oh, no, it doesn’t bother me at all!’ I wish you would have asked me that four months later. The Vatican moves like nothing else. It’s eternal … they think about things, they ask people their opinion, they have meetings of the C9. A lot goes into these big decisions.

I thought maybe the pope would have made an announcement, maybe in January, because of the terms ending in December. Then I thought that with all that goes into vetting new members, who’s involved, reaching out probably to each person’s bishop, all the correspondence, I think naming people in February now is like a speedway! The cardinal doesn’t live in Rome, he visits Rome, he’s got an archdiocese of his own to run. You have to coordinate the pope’s schedule, his travel, the cardinal’s travel.

A month is nothing in the time of the Church, nothing. I don’t think they would have announced it before the initial terms of the commission expired, that’s just not what they do.

When did the cardinal call you?

I’d just walked out of a restaurant, and I’d had the best Italian lunch. (looks in appointment book) It was February 12. Just as an aside, my birthday was Feb. 13 and Valentine’s Day was Feb. 14, so I was on cloud nine. I just thought it was the biggest birthday gift I could have received. It wasn’t that long ago, to be honest. I’m still stunned. I didn’t tell anyone until I got the green light to tell people, but it’s kind of bittersweet. My mom and dad would have been so proud of me, and I just kind of wanted to tell them. They wouldn’t have told anybody. I hope they know, I’m sure they do.

Recently, Catherine Bonnet, a former member of the commission, complained of a failure to respond to victims from letters. What’s your reaction to that?

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is meticulous in responding to all correspondence from victims. In fact, [projects manager and media coordinator] Emer [McCarthy] worked tirelessly with [former commission member] Marie Collins to develop a strong correspondence protocol, which was followed.

What’s the work the commission still has left to do?

They still need to provide some solid ideas to the Holy Father on how best to protect children. That’s their mission, to advise him on ways to best protect children. They still need to come up with ways and methodologies that the Church can best protect children, keeping in mind the various and diverse cultures.

What works for the Western world is not going to work for some of the other cultures, so they need to come up with some really solid templates. They have the guidelines, but the guidelines don’t always work in every corner of the world. Some do, some don’t, of the precepts in the guidelines. They need to keep their focus on their mission, and their mission is to advise the Holy Father and to emphasize local responsibility.

I think if they keep straight on that path, then a lot will come from this commission. I think they can hit the ground running, once we pass the formation stage of getting to know one another and setting up a system. Their bottom line job is to advise the Holy Father, and the answers have to be diverse, it can’t be myopic and just consider one set of civil laws or one justice system in different countries. It’s got to be global and applicable to the universal church.

You clearly can’t comment on specific controversies such as the Barros situation in Chile, because the commission doesn’t handle specific cases. But you know there’s a lot of disappointment and anger out there among victims and survivors. Do you see a role for the commission in addressing that anger somehow?

I don’t know the particulars of that case, nor does the commission investigate cases. But what the commission can benefit from is learning from the Church’s mistakes and working on ways to reduce the risk of them happening again. I think the commission can learn from cases even without investigating them. If the commission becomes as open and transparent as possible, so people know the dedication of its members and that they are working, that will help as well.

The fact the commission has been continued, the fact that it’s on the pope’s radar, should send a huge message. Sometimes, people just love for the Catholic Church to fail. The Church is not failing on this issue. The Church is aggressively addressing it … maybe not as fast as other people would want to see done, but it’s a change in culture, in a lot of cultures. It’s not only the Church culture that [has to change] in many places, it’s the secular culture too, and that does not come with one note to self from the pope. That’s not how it works. People who want things to change faster are not realistic about how things change.

Pope Francis will mark his five-year anniversary in a month. What’s your view of where he stands on this issue?

I think the pope in total has been a phenomenal pope. He’s the one who’s telling people, get your hands dirty. He’s the one going about publicly and secretly meeting with those who are marginalized and on the outskirts of society. He’s the most humble … you know, he’s never been to his summer home [Castel Gandolfo]. He practices what he preaches, and he asks that of the Church as well. I think with regards to having a heart for those who have been hurt or harmed, he’s got a tremendous heart.

One of the ways that’s exhibited is his support for the commission. It was one of the first things he established, and it continues to march on. It hasn’t fallen by the wayside, it hasn’t been neutralized or marginalized in any way. He put a strong cardinal in charge, who’s very active. He’s spent a tremendous amount of time dealing with commission issues, and he has to still run his archdiocese. Unless you just want to look at the negative side, he’s done a tremendous job.

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