The Commission’s specific task is to propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church. The Commission is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.

Pope Francis, establishing the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors

22 March 2014

Our Safeguarding Journey

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2018-2022 COMMISSION

An expanded mandate and Commission

Pope Francis appointed ten new members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and reappointed ten members. There are now 20 experts on the Commission, which, led by the President and Secretary, constitute an important locus within the Roman Curia for the protection of minors and the broader safeguarding program. The members form regional groups per continent and expert personnel is contracted from the local regions to staff their work.

The Commission’s collaboration with colleagues in the Roman Curia progresses with the signing of a series of Memorandum of Understanding agreements on an exchange of information regarding their work on behalf of local churches relevant to safeguarding and the accompaniment of victims and survivors.

The Episcopal Conferences of Italy and Spain entered into an agreement with the Commission to provide resources for a program to help build safeguarding capacity in less structured churches in the global south. The program – named the Memorare Initiative –  focuses on three pillars developed from Vos estis lux mundi:

    • The creation of systems for receiving complaints and safe and appropriate accompaniment of victims and survivors;
    • Safeguarding formation;
    • Safeguarding network building to promote awareness and prevention strategies.

    Promoted as a ‘One Church’ initiative by uniting the efforts of the conferences of bishops and religious present on the local territories, the first Memorandum of Understanding for the Memorare Initiative was signed with the Church in Rwanda.



    In March 2022, Pope Francis promulgated the long awaited Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium , reforming the governance and structures of the Roman Curia.

    In article 78, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (Tutela Minorum) is given a stable and central role in the Roman Curia, alongside the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, while maintaining its unique line of reporting directly to the Holy Father through its President.

    The Commission is also given competency for the review of safeguarding policies and guidelines in the local Church:

    “The Pontifical Commission assists diocesan/eparchial Bishops, Episcopal Conferences and Oriental Hierarchical Structures, Superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and their Conferences in developing appropriate strategies and procedures, through Guidelines to protect minors and vulnerable persons from sexual abuse and to provide an appropriate response to such conduct by clergy and members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, according to canonical norms and taking into account the requirements of civil law”
    PE art. 78 §2.

    2018-2022 COMMISSION

    Receiving the Commission in a private audience in April, Pope Francis mandated the Commission to prepare an Annual Report on safeguarding efforts in the Church, with particular attention to the care of victims/survivors of abuse, in overseeing the application of article 2 of the Motu proprio, Vos estis lux mundi:

    “I urge you to assist the Conferences of Bishops – this is very important: to assist and oversee in dialogue with the Conferences of Bishops – in establishing suitable centres where individuals who have experienced abuse, and their family members, can find acceptance and an attentive hearing, and be accompanied in a process of healing and justice.”

    Also in March, the extended term of the Commission ended. An independent Search Committee was established to provide the Holy Father with a list of suitable candidates for future membership.



    The Holy Father extended the Commission’s three-year term by a year and members to assess the Survivors Advisory Panel (SAP) model developed in three different local churches and online to measures the impact, successes and challenges that the model encountered in incorporating the victim/survivor perspective in policy development. 

    The results of the assessment are explored by victims/survivors, academics, church leaders and administrators in a high level seminar titled, “A Culture of Healing – Developing a culturally sensitive approach to listening and responding to those who have been sexually abused in the Church.” The proceedings are being published as a guide for local churches in victim/survivor assistance.

    The Commission continued to engage with academics and colleagues in the Roman Curia with overlapping competencies for canonical questions related to the protection of minors in the local church, thus paving the way for another seminar on aspects of procedures in canonical penal processes concerning child sexual abuse (Results were considered in the revised Book VI of the CIC/1983 promulgated in 2021) titled, “The Rights of Victims in Penal Procedures.”

    The Commission’s collaboration in safeguarding formation for Religious Superiors continues, through a series of online seminars in conjunction with the International Union of Superiors General and Union of Superiors General. The proceedings of this series are published as a manual titled, “A Culture of Care and Protection: New Challenges for Consecrated Life.”

    Tutela Minorum co-sponsored an international interfaith symposium with Harvard University and the Catholic University of America titled, “Faith and Flourishing: Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse.”

    In June 2021, Pope Francis appointed Fr. Andrew Small, OMI, as secretary of the Commission. In September 2021, in collaboration with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Poland, the Commission organized a leadership formation conference titled, “Our Common Mission of Safeguarding God’s Children” for the churches of central and eastern Europe.

    One of the tangible outcomes of the Conference was the creation of the ECO safeguarding network among the local churches.



    Digital Commission

    The work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (Tutela Minorum) moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Members analyzed the effects of quarantine on children and vulnerable adults in situations at risk, together with their Safeguarding partners in the Church and civil society. They also began an online awareness raising campaign culminating with an Introduction to Safeguarding Webinar Series.

    As restrictions eased over the summer, Pope Francis opened up the Vatican Gardens to the children of Holy See employees. Tutela Minorum in collaboration with the organizers of the Salesian Summer Camp provided Safeguarding training to the group of 30 young camp volunteers, as part of a Safe Environment program.


     A turning point

    In February, Pope Francis welcomed a proposal from Tutela Minorum and invited the Presidents of the Bishops Conferences from around the world to Rome for a Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. The three-day gathering focused on responsibility, accountability and transparency in the Church’s response to those who have been abused. Pope Francis proposed an eight-point safeguarding framework and promulgated new Safeguarding Guidelines for Vatican City State and the Vicariate of Vatican City State, as well as appointed Tutela Minorum then-Secretary Mons. Robert Oliver as the Safeguarding contact for the territory.

    In May, the Holy Father promulgated the Apostolic Letter motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi,(“You are the Light of the World”).

    In December, Tutela Minorum organized an academic seminar with international scholars to study the protection and promotion of the dignity of persons involved in allegations concerning the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. The emphasis of this seminar was balancing confidentiality, transparency and accountability. Worldwide members carried forward over 130 Safeguarding formation, education and training initiatives.


    Building a Safer Church together

    Pope Francis confirmed the Pontifical Commission after its three-year ad experimentum phase and renewed its membership. In his Letter To The Holy People of God, he wrote:

    “Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.

    The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”

    Tutela Minorum piloted the Survivors Advisory Panels, on-line and in person, to explore the model as a safe space for people who have been abused to contribute to local church Safeguarding policies and practice.  

    Members offered over 100 Safeguarding education, formation  and training initiatives as the movement for a safer church began to gain momentum. These included several presentations at the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland.

    Tutela Minorum began working together with the two global unions for men and women religious — the International Union of Superiors General (Women) and the Union of Superiors General (Men) — to explore the concept of Safeguarding and care for men and women religious in their various apostolates.



    Pope Francis met with Tutela Minorum members, encouraging them to embark on partnering with other faith groups and organizations within civil society active in the protection of children and vulnerable people.  Members and staff conducted two pilot projects in Colombia and Zambia to gauge Safeguarding structures, polices and implementation in different cultures.

    In Spring, Tutela Minorum organized a major conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to study #Safeguarding in Homes and Schools. Members attended the Global Education and Skills Forum, in the United Arab Emirates and a task force was invited by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences for a workshop on strengthening Safeguarding systems, partnering with CAFOD UK. Members noticed a rising trend in requests for formation, particularly from Institutes for Religious life and Societies of Apostolic life. Tutela Minorum began working with the Survivor Advisory Panel to the National Safeguarding Commission of the Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales, to study safe space models.  In December, Pope Francis addressed the Child Dignity in the Digital World Congress in Rome, where the Holy See signed the Rome Declaration.


    Ongoing work with victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse resulted in the 2016 proposal of a Day of Prayer for People Who Have Suffered Abuse. Pope Francis asked national bishops’ conferences to choose an appropriate day on which to pray for survivors and victims of sexual abuse, their families and communities as part of a universal initiative. The Holy Father also issued a letter to bishops on the Feast of the Holy Innocents asking them to adhere, clearly and faithfully, to “zero tolerance” of abuse against children, including sexual abuse.

    The Commission’s outreach spread across the continents with educational initiatives doubling year after year, for a total of 70 events in as many countries in 2016.  Members stepped up presentations on safeguarding and accountability for church leadership presenting, among others, to the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM); the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) and Bishops Conferences in Mexico, Italy, Slovakia, Lithuania and Australia.

    Pope Francis issued the Apostolic Letter in Motu proprio As a Loving Mother, promulgated on the basis of a proposal by the Commission, clarifying that negligence regarding cases of sexual abuse committed against children or vulnerable adults are among the “grave causes” that justify removal from ecclesiastical offices, even of bishops or their equivalent under canon law. 

    Tutela Minorum was asked to lead Safeguarding formation as part of the annual formation courses for new bishops offered by both the then-Congregation of Bishops and the then-Congregation for the Evangelization for Peoples. Members also offered formation to future nuncios studying at the Accademia Ecclesiastica in Rome and personnel at the then-Congregation for Clergy.   In December, the Congregation for Clergy issued the new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis for the formation of priests. It clearly refers to Safeguarding and indicates that “specific lessons, seminars or courses on the protection of minors are to be included in programs of initial and ongoing formation.”



    The Commission studied gaps in existing polices and norms and worked on the creation of a template guideline for Safeguarding Policies. The template is based on the 2011 Circular Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and on the study of polices produced by many national bishops’ conferences.

    It is a practical resource for bishops and religious leaders to help them develop and to implement effective policies, procedures, and programs for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults in their care.

    Members continued their work of building safeguarding awareness locally through more than 30 educational initiatives across the globe, taking in the Philippines, Rwanda, Ireland, France and Spain.

    Some examples of the programs include a meeting in December with the Episcopal Secretariat of Central America and Panama (SEDAC) for a two-day conference that included bishops from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama. In Vatican City State, Tutela Minorum began safeguarding formation for personnel in collaboration with other Holy See offices, beginning with the then-Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. 

    In June, Pope Francis issued a Papal Rescript on the establishment of a new judicial body within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the consideration of appeals relating to graver offences (delicta graviora) of the clergy, including cases of abuse of minors by members of the clergy, in an effort to speed up processes.


    The Chirograph

    In March, Pope Francis issued a Chirograph  outlining the Commission’s task to advise the Holy Father on effective policies for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults and educational programs for all involved in this work. He appointed the first eight members chosen from a variety of disciplines and cultures, men and women, lay, religious, and clergy. In May, they gathered in Rome, and months of intense study followed as the members identified  focus areas: Working with those who had been abused, their families and communities; safeguarding standards and norms in church law and civil society;

    formation and education of church leadership and personnel and the theology and spirituality underpinning safeguarding efforts.

    In July, members accompanied a group of victims and survivors of clerical child sexual abuse for a private Mass and a meeting with Pope Francis.

    On the ground, the TutelaMinorum journey also began with members traveling to Poland, American Samoa, New Zealand, Rome and the USA to offer seminars, workshops and conferences on the protection of children and vulnerable adults in the church. 


    The Start

    The Council of Cardinals  advising Pope Francis proposed the idea of a Cmmission of experts to act as an advisory body to the Holy Father for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

    The Cardinals, representing churches around the world, identified this task as one of the most urgent priorities for the Church today. The Holy Father approved the proposal and appointed Cardinal Seán O’Malley with the task of forming the Commission.