by MICHAEL OTTO
The New Zealand church will be making a significant contribution to the Pontifical
Commission for the Protection of Minors, says one of the organisation’s new members.
Bill Kilgallon, who is director of the National Office for Professional Standards in this country, was one of eight new appointments to the commission made by Pope Francis late last year.
The commission, which now has 17 members, was first announced by the Pope in 2013.
The new members were scheduled to travel to Rome for a meeting from February 6-8.
According to the Catholic News Service, the Pope wants the commission to help the Church develop better policies and procedures for protecting minors.
The commission is also meant to lay out a pastoral approach to helping victims and prevent future abuse as well as focus on priestly formation, accountability and reaching out to survivors.
Mr Kilgallon told NZ Catholic the New Zealand church can contribute “our experience, the things that worked well in New Zealand, and the things we need to develop”.
The New Zealand church will also benefit from what has been learned in other countries in this area, he said.
“We have got a fair amount of experience now in the Church across different countries.”
An example of what is working well in the New Zealand church is “the commitment to investigating and responding to complaints”.
“What we haven’t done on New Zealand is much focus on prevention and education and that is
the focus this year.”
Moves to address and advance this area have included a Safe Church programme launched
locally last year.
The New Zealand Church has also helped lead training programmes in this area in churches in the Pacific Islands.
Mr Kilgallon sees his commission role as helping foster consultation and discussion with churches in Oceania.
He believes one of the major issues that will be addressed by the commission is ensuring accountability of Church leadership, with clear systems.
This is a theme which has been emphasised by the commission’s head, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
Last year, Cardinal O’Malley told media that a person’s rank in the Churchshould not lead to special treatment or protection.
“Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with superiors in the Church who have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children,”
Mr Kilgallon said one of the worst features of the abuse crisis in the past was when Church leadership was more interested in protecting the Church’s reputation than in dealing
with the issue transparently.
“Of course, the best way to protect the Church is to protect children and vulnerable adults
in the Church,” he said.
Another strong theme for the commission will involve co-operation with civil authorities.
But that is easily said in countries like New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Mr Kilgallon said.
“If you are working in a country which is hostile, where the civil authority is hostile
to the Church, then co-operating with that authority is a different issue,” he cautioned.
Different nations are also at different stages of “identifying the issue”. Mr Kilgallon recounted the story of an African representative at a recent Anglophone conference, who observed that, in his country, abuse goes on, and when people get angry enough about it,
there will be a reaction.
“There is no doubt that abuse of children is endemic in all countries,” Mr Kilgallon said.
“Not just in the Church, but across all societies. It is not something that is particularly Western.”
One thing Mr Kilgallon was very pleased about in the commission’s new membership was the inclusion of another abuse survivor, Peter Saunders from the United Kingdom.
Mr Saunders, who was abused from age 8-13, was one of the survivors who met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in the middle of last year.
The head of a UK organisation that helps people abused in childhood, Mr Saunders told media after his appointment that there is a lot to be done in building bridges with survivors.
This is especially so with survivors who have been badly treated in the past by the Church, he said, adding that some survivors continue to be badly treated.
Mr Kilgallon said people like Mr Saunders and fellow abuse survivor and commission member Marie Collins of Ireland bring a “totally different perspective” to the group.
He said it is absolutely critical to have people like these on the commission, not only because of their experience, but also because they are very intelligent and can take a broad perspective.
A survivors working group is already up and running on the commission. As many as 12 working groups are planned.
As a former head of the Social Care Institute for Excellence in the UK, Mr Kilgallon is looking forward to helping work to identify best practice and guidelines for policy and
Commission secretary Msgr Robert Oliver told media that, three years ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began to work with local bishops’ conferences and religious
congregations seeking to develop guidelines to best protect children and respond to victims.
The commission should be able to help in this effort too, Msgr Oliver said. But prosecution of abuse cases remains with the CDF, he said.
Mr Kilgallon fears new technology and an ever-growing child pornography plague means the risk to children has increased and will likely continue to do so.
Impoverished countries which already have a sex tourism trade will bear much of the brunt of this, but it is a worldwide issue, with a worldwide exchange, he said.
In 2010, Pope Benedict changed Church law so that using this sort of child pornography image is considered sexual abuse and comes with the same penalties, Mr Kilgallon added.
There will be a “whole range of issues” for the commission to consider, he noted.
by MICHAEL OTTO