Church failing to tackle sex abuse in ‘Global South’

The Global South region of the Catholic Church is missing out, says a member of the Vatican’s advisory commission on clerical sexual abuse.

He admitted on Friday that the Church was failing to tackle the scourge of clerical sexual abuse in the southern hemisphere.

There was a “disparity in training and prevention of child sexual abuse between the northern and southern hemispheres”, warned a priest from the North, Andrew Small (pictured) who is the secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The so-called “mission church” in developing countries “doesn’t have the people or the resources that you have in Europe and North America,” Small said, adding, “that inequality shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”

The Vatican considers New Zealand a mission church. It is in the Global South region.

“The disparity in the formation and prevention of the sexual abuse of minors between the northern and southern hemispheres recalls the urgency of the collaboration of the church in the wealthiest countries to remedy the enormous inequality in safeguarding services between the north and south of the world,” he said.

“In our engagement with victim survivors, the acknowledgement of the wrong that was done to them is primary, being listened to, being believed,” said Fr Small.

“There’s nothing that takes the place of being believed and heard.”

However, the UK priest told the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano there is an “urgency… to remedy the huge inequality in safeguarding services between the global north and south”.

Small was appointed by Pope Francis in 2021 to the advisory commission which in an attempt to stop paedophile clerics has doubled in size from 10 to 20 experts.

“Although almost all of the world’s 114 bishops’ conferences have drafted and presented a set of guidelines, there remains the important question of their effectiveness and verification, both of which are essential when dealing with child protection,” he said.

The commission is tasked with drawing up yearly reports to chart the progress on the safeguarding of minors across the global Church.

Small said the commission will look at how much care is taken of survivors of clerical abuse and monitor whether countries and dioceses have implemented effective safeguarding guidelines.

He says the report will provide an urgent degree of transparency and accountability about child protection and the management of abuse cases.

The Vatican still needs to find a way to be more open while respecting local laws that protect the reputation of someone who is not guilty of a civil crime but may have violated church law, said Small.

If the church cannot figure that out, he said, not only will it be bad for the institutional church, “but it will be continually painful for the victims, who are the source and summit of the commission’s focus.”

Small says the report will have four sections:

• a summary of bishop’s reports regarding their guidelines and the implementation of Vos Estis, given to the commission during the ad limina visit
• commission team members examining the church in geographical areas
• an examination of how Roman Curia departments are including safeguarding in their activities
• broader efforts to protect children in the world e.g. child soldiers, children in orphanages and foster care, and protecting migrant and refugee children.

Small says the commission should have something to the Pope in 2023, but does not expect to have enough actionable data until its first annual report in 2024.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of, a respected US-based organisation that tracks abuse, complained the Vatican commission was moving too slowly.

She calls is a “major deficiency”.

“That’s a long time for the public to wait before knowing where children are at risk of sexual abuse,” she said about the 2024 publication date, in a statement to Reuters.

The commission got off to a rocky start with several people resigning because they thought it lacked sufficient ‘clout’.

In March, Francis appears to have rectified the perceptions when a new Holy See constitution placed it inside the Vatican’s doctrinal department, which rules on abuse cases.

The commission is led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Small. In addition, the commission comprises 20 members, 10 men and 10 women.

Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: , ,