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Cardinal O'Malley named to Vatican child protection commission

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, four women -- including a survivor of clerical sex abuse -- two Jesuit priests and an Italian lawyer are the first eight members of the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Pope Francis established the commission in December, announcing the first members March 22.

Cardinal O'Malley told The Pilot March 25 that the new commission members "will be meeting for the first time next month to try to finalize the commission's statutes and to suggest different members from other parts of the world to continue internationalizing the group that will then advise the Holy Father on issues of child protection."

"The establishment of this commission and its independence is a clear indication of the importance that the Holy Father is giving to the area of child protection in the Church," Cardinal O'Malley said. "In the United States, since the adoption of the Charter (For the Protection of Children and Young People), American dioceses have been very focused on child protection programs and an adequate response to instances of sexual abuse, as well as screening and training to help people become aware of the seriousness of and damage caused by abuse of minors."

When the child protection commission was announced in December, Cardinal O'Malley told reporters it would take a pastoral approach to helping victims and preventing abuse, given that much of the Vatican's attention thus far had been on implementing policies and legal procedures for investigating allegations of abuse and punishing guilty priests.

"Among the other members of the commission is abuse survivor Marie Collins, whom I met in Dublin when I was the apostolic visitator there. I am sure that her own personal experience and commitment will be a very valuable contribution to this commission and our work," the cardinal said.

Collins, who was born in Dublin, was sexually abused at age 13 by a Catholic priest who was a chaplain at a hospital where she was a patient.

Addressing a major conference in Rome in 2012 on the protection of children, she said being abused led to depression, despair and deep loss of trust in the Catholic Church. In 1997, the priest that had abused her -- and other young girls over a period of three decades -- was finally brought to justice. She founded an organization to help victims of sexual abuse, worked with the Archdiocese of Dublin to set up its child protection office and helped draft the child protection policies of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the commission would take "a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large."

"In this way, and with the help of God, this commission will contribute to the Holy Father's mission of upholding the sacred responsibility of ensuring the safety of young people," Father Lombardi said.

Jesuit Fathers Hans Zollner and Humberto Yanez, who also were appointed to the commission, were instrumental in organizing the 2012 conference where Collins addressed representatives of bishops' conferences and religious orders from around the world.

Father Zollner, a German psychologist and psychotherapist, chaired the committee that organized the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University and is chairman of the steering committee of the Center for Child Protection that developed out of the conference. Father Yanez, director of the moral theology department at the Gregorian, was a member of the conference's theological board.

Meeting reporters in 2013 to discuss follow-up to the conference, Father Zollner said: "Unfortunately, the matter will be with us for a long time. The Church is working much more than people know, but is also the object of criticism because of its errors, its failures and the sins of the past. This is why it is extremely important to continue the work of prevention with every available means."

In addition to Collins, the other women on the commission are: Hanna Suchocka, a former professor of law, who served as prime minister of Poland, 1992-93, and Polish ambassador to the Vatican, 2001-13; Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychiatrist specializing in helping victims of incest; and Baroness Sheila Hollins, a British mental health specialist who has focused her research on people with learning disabilities.

The eighth member of the commission is Claudio Papale, an Italian who holds degrees in both civil and canon law and works in the disciplinary section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The office is responsible for investigating allegations against priests.

"We are very grateful for this opportunity to be able to serve the Church in this very important area and to work with people from various countries -- all of whom have a great wealth of experience to contribute to this effort," Cardinal O'Malley said.

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