Francis shows political savvy in commission appointees

With one move, Pope addressed issues of women, laity and abuse

Pope Francis has named eight people, including Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, to a  group to help the Catholic Church fight the clerical sexual abuse of minors.  Photograph: Reuters

Pope Francis has named eight people, including Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, to a group to help the Catholic Church fight the clerical sexual abuse of minors. Photograph: Reuters

Sun, Mar 23, 2014, 15:53

In appointing four women, five lay people and three anglophones to the Vatican’s new Pontifical Council For The Protection Of Minors yesterday (Sat), Pope Francis has perhaps shown himself to be not just a universal pastor but also a savvy politician.

Even if this hugely charismatic Pope has already done much to improve the image of the Catholic Church, the first year of his pontificate has, in the eyes of some, been sullied by his relative silence on the issue of clerical sex abuse.

Furthermore, Francis has promised much with regard to the role of both women and the laity in the Church without, however, managing to deliver anything concrete on either front.

With one move yesterday (Sat), the Pope has addressed all three issues. The Holy See will, obviously, claim that Public Relations considerations have nothing to with either the timing of this announcement or with the composition of the new Pontifical Council.

What remains undeniable is that the Commission could hardly have been appointed at a more appropriate moment nor, surprisingly, in a more politically correct way. Gender parity, voice for the laity and concern for minors are all contained in one packet and all that just days before Francis is due to host US president Barak Obama in the Vatican.

Whatever about the timing, Vatican insiders are convinced that the composition of the Commission owes much to concern amongst senior Vatican figures that, as a Latin American, perhaps Pope Francis does not fully understand the enormity of the damage inflicted on the North American and European Churches by the sex abuse crisis.

We are talking here, obviously, of the damage inflicted not only by the crisis itself but also by any suggestion that the Church continues to drag its feet in dealing with the issue.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis raised more than a few eyebrows when, in an interview with Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, he said that the Catholic Church had moved with “transparency and responsibility” in response to the sex abuse issue, adding that “no one has done as much”.

Any ambiguity created by those remarks - whatever their context - appears to have been addressed by the composition of this new Commission.

Senior Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, today (Sun) told The Irish Times there was “nothing casual” about the line-up, pointing out that the four women - French pyschologist Catherine Bonnet, former Polish Prime Minister and Ambassador to the Holy See, Hanna Suchocka, British psychiatrist Baroness Sheila Hollins and Ireland’s Marie Collins - all in their different ways bring a vast wealth of professional experience and knowledge to the issue.

Incidentally, Father Lombardi also confirmed that mS Collins was chosen not only because of her obvious expertise but also because of her impressive contribution to a symposium on clerical sex abuse, Towards Healing And Renewal, partly organised by Father Lombardi himself and held at Rome’s Jesuit-run Gregorian University in February 2012.

Not for nothing, two other participants at that symposium, Baroness Hollins and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, head of psychology at the “Greg”, will also serve on the commission.

The line-up is completed by three men, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Argentine Jesuit Humberto Miguel Yanez and Italian canon law expert Claudio Papale.

Cardinal O’Malley, as the man who took over the archdiocese of Boston immediately after the departure of the controversial Cardinal Bernard Law and also as the apostolic “visitor” to the archdiocese of Dublin two years ago, is clearly someone with plenty of experience in these matters.

As for Father Yanez, a man who teaches moral theology at the “Greg”, he is not only a former pupil of Pope Francis but he is today also one of his closest collaborators.

To a certain extent, he will be Francis’ eyes and ears on the Commission.

Even if the Pope obviously had the final say on the appointments to this Commission, Vatican insiders suggest that German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of the so-called G8 Council of Cardinals who advice Francis, had a large say in drawing up the group. As and of now, the Commission has neither effective structure nor indeed a clear “boss”.

When it was first announced last December, the news came from Cardinal O’Malley, another G8 Cardinal, prompting many to conclude that he will lead its deliberations but that remains to be seen.

Father Lombardi said today that the new Commission will most probably hold its first meeting next month at the time of the dual canonisations of Popes John XIII and John Paul II whilst he also pointed out that amongst its initial tasks will be the drawing up of statutes re its work.

The papal spokesman also said that one of the Commission’s first tasks will be to propose the names of additional, qualified candidates, especially from other continents such as Asia, in order to take a “multi-pronged” approach to the promotion of youth protection.