ROME – A Canadian victim of clerical sexual abuse who describes herself as a “prayer warrior and encourager” for reform says a recent meeting with Pope Francis’s main anti-abuse panel “provided a lot of closure” for victims and praised the group for listening to them, many of whom, she said, experience a great deal of “pain and anger.”
Last week, Francis’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and Young Adults met for the first time since half of its members were changed this February, after the term of the original group expired last December. According to a statement from the commission, members encountered the pope, discussed abuse prevention education and policy, and ways the Church might work more closely with abuse survivors.
The commission dedicated the first day of its plenary session to hearing the testimony of people abused by priests.
Among them was Deborah Kloos, a Canadian from Windsor, Ontario, who’s long advocated for the Catholic Church to publicly pray for, and with, survivors, and who describes herself as the commission’s “prayer warrior and encourager.”
In a series of private messages she exchanged with Crux via Twitter on Monday and Tuesday, Kloos had nothing but words of support and encouragement for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCMP) and the meeting she had with them last week.
“It gave me a lot of closure to meet them,” she said. “They were kind to us and welcoming. They need support from survivors, because I realize that they hear a lot of negative things from people who criticize the Church,” in part because many survivors of clerical sexual abuse, understandingly, have “so much pain and anger inside.”
Speaking about the commission, she also said that the group at times hasn’t had the support of the Roman Curia, referring to the Church’s central government in the Vatican. That’s something abuse survivor Marie Collins of Ireland, for instance, spoke about when she announced she was leaving the commission early last year.
“The [Pontifical Commission members] are people trying to make our Church better, and they need lots of positive support. As a survivor, I may not have all the qualifications to be part of their team, but I want to be their prayer warrior and encourager,” she said.
The commission was created by Francis in March 2014. According to his legal document instituting the body, its “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.”
Experts from all over the world were asked to be a part of it, and Collins was one of original members. Later, a second abuse survivor, Englishman Peter Saunders, was also invited to participate, though like Collins, he left before the three-year mandate was over.
When she originally found out that Collins was going to be a part of the commission, Kloos said, “it gave me hope.”
She “spent hours on the internet trying to find her and contact her,” to see if the Irish woman would help her mobilize the Church to pray for survivors of clerical sexual abuse.
“Marie Collins emailed me back, and then we began communicating. She is a very strong, intelligent, brave person and great advocate for abuse survivors. I researched all the names of the PCPM members and made all of them a rosary with a personal letter requesting that they help me to get our Church to do a Day of Prayer for Abuse survivors.”
She also got in contact with German Father Hans Zollner, who’s been a member of the commission since 2014. A Jesuit, he also runs the Centre for Child Protection (CCP), headquartered in Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.
Through Zollner, Kloos said, she’s been sending letters to the commission’s members for the past four years, as well as handmade gifts. She did this ahead of each of the body’s meetings, in an attempt to ensure that each time, they had her request of a prayer day for survivors on the agenda.
Her efforts, which were not cheap considering the cost of international shipping, panned out. A 2016 statement reviewing the work accomplished by the commission throughout the year states that “a survivor of clerical child sexual abuse made the proposal of a Day of Prayer to the Commission.”
The statement recognized the importance of prayer as part of the “healing process for survivors and the community of believers,” and as a way of raising consciousness in the Church. It also said that Francis had requested that national bishops’ conferences choose a day on which to pray for survivors and victims of sexual abuse.
Kloos also thanked her own diocese of London, Ontario, for launching “a beautiful diocesan-wide Day of Prayer for abuse survivors on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows to give them positive encouragement, and to focus on the present and the future.”
“Although it took a long time for them, they still did what was right and I am grateful,” she said.
Kloos describes Francis’s request to the bishops of the world as “beautiful,” but she wants even more: “I am still hoping our Holy Father does a Mass at the Vatican where everyone is welcome to come like he does the papal audiences on Wednesdays.”
Kloos wasn’t originally scheduled to meet the commission last week. But she was in Europe with her husband, visiting several cities, including Munich, Germany, where they met with Zollner, “it was such a blessing.”
When she read that the group would meet with survivors, she reached out to the priest and said she’d like to extend her vacation and be a part of the gathering.
Zollner told her that Baroness Sheila Hollins, founding member of the commission, was hosting the group of clergy abuse survivors, who were coming from the United Kingdom. She contacted Hollins and Collins, and the possibility became a reality.
“They were really kind and made arrangements for Karl and I to meet the PCPM members and the UK Survivor group,” she said. “We extended our vacation for another week so we could travel to Rome. It was worth the extra cost to meet the PCPM members and survivor’s group.”
The PCPM, she said, “are the ones doing all the work to help the Church regarding safeguarding.”
Kloos also had the opportunity to see Francis up close during his Wednesday audience. Speaking about the pontiff, she said she admires the fact that he’s apologized for his mistakes with regards to the sex abuse crisis in Chile, and praised him for meeting with survivors (which will happen this weekend).
“It takes a lot of courage,” she said.
She doesn’t deny that the Church has made mistakes, but instead, chooses to focus on “every positive change the Church has made,” because addressing the issue takes “so much time and small steps, but every small step leads to more healing.”
A nurse by training, Kloos has much to say, and is open and candid when sharing. However, at the end of the day, there’s one message she’d like to put across for anyone who’s willing to listen to her.
“Our world and our Church need to be encouraged to pray together against abuse because prayer is powerful, positive, and healing,” she repeated in one way or another during the message exchange. “It brings people together and opens up communication. If I can help promote this message as an abuse survivor maybe it will do something to help people and our Church.”
Prayer “opens up communication and brings people together” allowing them to talk about the “taboo topic of abuse and open the door to forgiveness and healing where there was anger and sadness.”