ROME – Amid what has so far been a rocky year, the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons has drafted an updated version of global anti-abuse safeguarding guidelines along with a survey for feedback on the new norms.
In a statement Friday, the commission said the new Universal Guidelines Framework (UGF) was approved during its most recent plenary assembly, held in Rome in May, and serves “as a model to define the safeguarding standards to be implemented in every local church across the world.”
The primary aim of the guidelines, the commission said, is to “promote protection from abuse in the Church according to existing good practices in safeguarding,” with a special focus on assisting those who have been impacted by abuse, and dealing with abuse appropriately when it occurs.
According to the commission, the new framework is based on an analysis of work done in the safeguarding field in both ecclesial and civil society over the past decade and includes a series of “core principles” that will be reflected in safeguarding guidelines and policies in every local church throughout the world.
The commission has sent the framework to every bishops’ conference and leaders of religious communities throughout the world, asking for feedback.
In addition, a period of public comment has also been launched through a survey that will be made available on the commission’s website.
Available in four languages, the survey includes a set of “Frequently Asked Questions,” including questions on the commission itself and its work, the background of the framework, and what will happen with the results of the feedback.
According to the commission’s website, the bishops and other church leaders have already received the guidelines and their feedback is being sought, but the logic for the public survey is that “the commission would like these guidelines to be applied everywhere.”
Thus, “the commission is opening the consultation to all. You do not need to be an expert; the commission wants to hear all views.”
“Each country and context have their own cultural, linguistic, and other individual characteristics which mean that the church’s presence in that country needs to reflect the local culture for it truly to be effective and meaningful to people in those different contexts,” the website said.
Specifically, the commission said it is looking for feedback on “whether and in what way the principles outlined in the Universal Guidelines Framework are helpful in achieving its goals from your individual or collective perspective.”
Once gathered, the responses and feedback given will be reviewed, collated, and incorporated into a final version of the framework. That final version will be evaluated and then approved by the commission towards the end of 2023.
The final, approved version will then be distributed to all local churches with the request that they update their current safeguarding policies and submit them to the commission for review.
An initial version of global safeguarding guidelines for the church was issued in 2011 by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), at the time led by American Cardinal William Levada. It is now headed by Spanish Jesuit Cardinal Luis Ladaria.
In his reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s central governing body, last year, Pope Francis in his apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium assigned competence over the church’s safeguarding guidelines to the commission, which is now a formal branch of the DDF.
The new guidelines are intended to facilitate greater adherence to and implementation of new legislation for safeguarding issued by Pope Francis in recent years, including his 2019 law Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which among other things enforces mandatory reporting of abuse, including for bishops, and his 2016 decree Come una madre amorevole, which cracked down on bishops for negligence in failing to properly report abuse allegations.
While these and other new legal measures issued under Francis have been hailed as significant steps forward in the Catholic Church’s safeguarding efforts, their implementation and, therefore, whether they have had any real impact, have been among the biggest question-marks the church has faced in recent years on the abuse front.
The Vatican has not published or issued any notice when an investigation according to these decrees has been launched, making it difficult to determine the real impact they have had and whether church hierarchy is being held to account.
According to the commission, the new framework requires local churches “to provide systems for receiving and managing accusations of abuse and for supporting all those affected, especially victims and survivors,” in line with these decrees.
Other requirements of the framework, the commission said, includes the accompaniment of those directly impacted by abuse as well as the communities affected.
“Cultural competence” in safeguarding efforts is also a stipulation, as well as “publicly accessible procedures, a stated commitment to safeguarding and accountable mechanisms for church leadership, risk prevention measures, and pastoral conversion towards a culture of safeguarding based on ongoing formation and training for all ministers in the church.”
The commission said that, in addition to updating global safeguarding norms, they will also provide concrete assistance to areas of the Church that lack the financial or human resources to implement the new framework.
To this end, it will draw on funds belonging to the Memorare program, named after a traditional Marian prayer and which was established with the aim of ensuring that “no one is left unaided,” as the prayer itself states.
Progress on the commission’s efforts to renew the church’s global safeguarding guidelines and implement them at the local level will be included in the Annual Report on Safeguarding Policies and Procedures – a report that was specifically requested by Pope Francis in an April 2022 audience with the commission.
An initial blueprint of that report will be released by the commission in October of this year, with a completed version containing “live data” from throughout the world is expected to be released in October 2024.
The issuance of the new framework and public survey come amid what has been a tumultuous year for the commission, after the contentious departure earlier this year of high-profile member, German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, one of the church’s most prominent safeguarding experts, who left with a series of complaints over management and financial and administrative transparency.
On May 31, the Associated Press published a story about financial decisions carried out by the Board of Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies while Fr. Andrew Small, the Commission’s current secretary, was at the helm. In response, the Pontifical Mission Societies issued a statement indicating that the transactions were legal and within the scope of the Board’s powers.
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