ROME – To guarantee survivors are at the center of any long-term solution the Catholic Church gives to the sexual abuse crisis, the pope’s advisory commission is instituting a Virtual Survivor’s Advisory Panel, following local initiatives in Zambia, the Philippines and Brazil.
The scope of the panel is to answer Pope Francis’s call for the Church to undergo a “personal and collective conversion” to address the situation, something which will only happen through “learning, listening, assisting and protecting the most vulnerable.”
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors met in Rome April 4-7 for their twice-a year general assembly. It was the first time the group has met since February’s Vatican sex abuse summit.
According to a statement released on Monday, the assembly began with the testimony of a mother from sub-Saharan Africa, who was a victim of clerical sexual abuse when she was a child.
“This testimony was part of the Commission’s ongoing commitment to root all endeavors in attentive listening to the lived reality of those who have suffered abuse in the Church,” the statement reads.
Heading the assembly was Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, the president of the commission.
He opened the assembly by thanking the group on behalf of Francis, particularly for their suggestion of organizing the February meeting, which brought together the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, as well as for their input in the recently published safeguarding guidelines and norms for Vatican City State, the Vicariate for Vatican City and the Roman Curia.
“Feedback from the February meeting indicates that the understanding of the critical role of safeguarding in the life and mission of the Church is maturing,” the statement says. “It also indicates that much remains to be done.”
The scope of the commission includes advising the pope on possible solutions to address the crisis in a global way. However, they’re not tasked with implementing any solutions, nor dealing with specific cases.
This has historically caused frustration among some members, who want to have a more proactive role.
The Virtual Survivor’s Advisory Panel (SAP) is seen as being an example of being proactive, creating a method of listening to, and learning from survivors in a safe and culturally familiar space. It will serve as an addition to the SAPs that have been established or are being developed locally in some countries.
The commission will also have an “internal study day” with experts to further understand crimes of a sexual nature and their prevention, to be able to “proactively” provide safe environments for minors.
The commission, created by Francis soon after the beginning of his pontificate, will also create an “audit instrument,” that will come up with resources to help local churches in the creation, implementation, reviewing and auditing of safeguarding programs.