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Vatican City, Dec 17, 2014 / 02:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis appointed eight new members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on Wednesday, completing the ranks of the commission with a balanced geographical representation in doing so.

“The commission was enlarged with the purpose of having an interdisciplinary view, with different perspectives coming from several part of the world,” Msgr. Robert W. Oliver, secretary of the Pontifical Commission, commented to CNA Dec. 17.

The eight new members come from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and South America.

Fr. Luis Manuel Ali Herrera comes from Colombia, where he serves as a professor of pastoral psychology and director of the psychology department in the Conciliar Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bogotá.

Gabriel Dy-Liacco hails from the Philippines, and is an adult and adolescent psychotherapist and pastoral counselor for various mental health concerns, and has also worked with victims and perpetrators of abuse.

Oceania has two representative: Bill Kilgallon works in New Zealand, where he directs the Church's National Office for Professional Standards; and Kathleen McCormack hails from Australia, where she served as Director of Welfare of CatholicCare in the Diocese of Wollongong for 29 years and held leadership roles in Family Services, Child Protection, Out Of Home Care and Ageing and Disability Services.

Africa also has two representatives, both of whom are nuns.

Sr. Kayula Gertrude Lesa from Zambia is a development professional, trainer, and author on child protection, human trafficking, refugee rights and the right to information; Sr. Hermenegild Makoro works as a high school teacher and for several years as a trainer in pastoral work in her diocese.

Krysten Winter-Green is a New Zealander based in the United States. She earned post-graduate degrees in theology, human development, social work, religion and pastoral psychology, and she has served in dioceses around the world with homeless persons and those living with AIDS. Winter-Green has performed forensics, assessment, and treatment of clerical offenders with regard to child abuse.

Abused throughout his childhood, Peter Saunders set up the National Association for people abused in childhood, in order to support all all survivors and for developing greater resources for responding to child abuse. Now, he has been appointed a member of the Pontifical Commission, and he will raise the issue of the victims, together with fellow member, and victim, Mary Collins.

The members of the commission will “now divide into working groups, so that we can have experts from multiple locales who are able to work on the issue and make proposals, promoting initiatives to the commission,” explained Msgr. Oliver.

At the moment, there are “12 working groups within the commission,” and the members can “look for experts on the topics under discussion.”

With the rank finally completed, the members of the Pontifical Commission will gather in Rome Feb. 6 – 8, and will hopefully approve the draft of the statutes.

“Our aim is to finish the draft three weeks before the plenary,” Msgr. Oliver said.

Msgr. Oliver added that “among the projects, there is that of assisting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its effort for new guidelines for the response to abuse.”

“Three years ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began to work with local bishops conferences and religious congregations, and asked them for guidelines for the response to abuse: we can help them in developing this effort.”

A former Vatican ‘public prosecutor’ in the ranks of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Msgr. Oliver said “we had talked at length about best practices we have been able to observe; we can further discuss about how the response to abuse is managed in Africa and Asia, and we finally should network all of these best practices, in order to improve the general response.”

Msgr. Oliver also stressed that “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be handling the cases, while the Pontifical Commission will be working on the protection of children.”

Pope Francis' creation of the commission follows upon the works of his predecessors St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Under St. John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger -- who was then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- established a strong response to allegations of sexual abuse, which he later continued as Pope.

His efforts began with a 1988 letter in which he shed light on how the procedures laid out in canon law made it difficult for bishops to laicize abusive priests.

In Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, a 2001 motu proprio, St. John Paul II transferred authority for investigating abuse cases from the Congregation for Clergy to Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, so that they could be dealt with more speedily.

Finally, in July 2010, under Benedict XVI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presented modifications to canon law that detailed how the dicastery would examine and punish instances of clerical abuse.

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2014 / 09:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Shouts of “Tanti auguri” – or, “Happy Birthday!” – filled St. Peter's Square Wednesday morning as Pope Francis circled around throngs of pilgrims on his popemobile during the weekly general audience.

The Holy Father, who turned 78 on Dec. 17, stopped to blow out the candles on a cake given to him by group of Legionaries of Christ seminarians. He also took a sip of mate tea – a traditional South American drink popular in Argentina – offered to him by pilgrims.

One of the lucky little pilgrims to receive a kiss from the Pope on his birthday was a small baby girl named Gaia who has been in Rome receiving medical treatment at the nearby Bambino Gesu' hospital.

Gaia's mother, Daniella from Cortona, Italy, has tried to come every week for the Wednesday General audience since arriving in Rome several months ago – in fact, she told CNA  this is the second time her baby has been kissed by Pope Francis.

Daniella added that she hopes Pope Francis will “inspect the Church,” because she believes “he has the capacity.”

“I like this Pope very much. For this reason I come to see him.”

Standing nearby was Richard Tirocke from Maryland in the United States. He told CNA that even though he did not practice his Catholic faith as seriously as he used to, it was nonetheless “incredible” to have had such a close encounter with Pope Francis. “I watched him kiss that baby,” he said. “I got to touch the baby's head!”

Alex and Flora Apulsen from Florida arranged their vacation in Rome to ensure that they could be in the Square with the Pope.  “We wish all his wishes will come true” on his birthday, Alex said. “This is truly a Pope for the people. It’s a very specially experience to be here.”

“He is a very great Pope,” said Flora. “We wish him happy birthday and all good things happen to him.”

Joe Pender from Sydney Australia told CNA he came to the Audience in the hopes of getting close to Pope Francis, and to receive a blessing.

“I wish him a good day, first of all, but most of all that he’s filled by the Holy Spirit today, and really blesses everyone as he continues to do every day.”

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2014 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Christmas approaches, priests and penitents should remind themselves of the “miracle” of confession and how we should approach the sacrament with “full freedom,” a Vatican cardinal says.

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza called the season of Advent is a time of “particularly attentive waiting,” a time both of men awaiting God and of God awaiting men, “whom he loves.”

“The Lord sets himself to search for man,” the cardinal said in a Dec. 14 letter to confessors.

Jesus Christ “continually calls men to conversion and, in these days of vigil, draws hearts with a unique tenderness towards the crib: 'Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.'”

The cardinal is prefect of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the tribunal of the Roman Curia whose responsibilities include the internal forum – matters of confession and spiritual direction.

The free act of confession, Cardinal Piacenza said, is “a miracle that has the assistance of God himself” and is “sustained by God’s grace.”

The cardinal said that confession is also a “gift” for the priest-confessor, who “always receives a light and special confirmation in the apostolate from contemplating this mystery.”

He added that through the “ineffable gift” of their ordination, priests “participate intimately in the work of salvation” and share more closely in “the immense joy of the soul’s encounter with Him.”

“Even as Mary Most Holy brought him forth to the world in the manger of Bethlehem, we bring him forth in the hearts of repentant sinners, and on the altar for their food and consolation,” the cardinal said.

He stressed the need for “every authentic pastoral charity.”

This charity is not only “much desired” by the Christian faithful, sought by the Church, and “so ardently insisted upon by the Holy Father.” This charity is “overflowing from the wounded Heart of Jesus.”

Cardinal Piacenza also encouraged confessors to pray for one another, especially in preparation for Christmas, “so that, for confessors as much as for penitents, the smile of the Child Jesus may shine transformatively in their souls.”

“And thank you for all you do as generous channels of the waters of divine mercy,” he added.

Praising the Virgin Mary as the “perfect mirror of Christ’s charity and sign of sure hope in his victory over sin and death,” he prayed that she may “stake out a true and lasting spiritual ‘rebirth’” for all the members of the Church.

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