Pope Francis announced in December nine additional appointees from around the world to his newly established Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Among them is Mr Bill Kilgallon, Director of the National Office for Professional Standards (NOPS) of the Catholic Church in New Zealand.
The Commission was set up last year, with eight initial members, in response to the scandal of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. When he announced the Commission, which reports directly to him, Pope Francis stressed that tackling this issue was a very high priority for him. Its 17 members come from 14 countries, with professional skills and experience including psychiatry, social work, psychology, education, law, theology, religious formation, management, politics and advocacy. Two of the members were themselves abused as children in the Church and are now working in leadership roles with abuse survivors.
‘In accepting this role I’m very aware of the responsibility it entails as the Church across the world learns from the past, brings together best practice and works to make changes now and for the future,’ says Bill.
‘The Commission faces a daunting challenge in dealing with abuse in the Church, abuse which has damaged so many individuals, families and communities. The members appointed by the Pope bring a great range skills and experience. I have worked with some of them previously and am looking forward to meeting new colleagues.
‘I am particularly pleased there are now two members of the Commission who are strong advocates on behalf of survivors, having experienced abuse themselves as children in the Church. It is the courage of people who were abused and were able, often many years after the abuse, to report it, which has made the Church and other institutions face up to reality. In keeping with the Pope’s approach to leadership of the Church the Commission truly reflects the world-wide Church with members from all continents. This will be a source a real strength.’
Starting this year, the Commission’s work will involve everyone – including volunteers – involved in ministry with children and vulnerable adults. It has been asked to develop policies for responding to and preventing abuse. This will include recruitment guidelines, training and formation of those involved in ministry, and creating a safe environment. It will identify best practice in responding to victims. Other areas of work will include co-operation with different legal systems worldwide, identifying potential changes in Church law, and how the Church deals with offenders. The Commission will also develop means of auditing compliance with agreed standards and of ensuring the accountability of those in leadership in the Church. All Commission members will meet at least twice yearly in Rome. Between those meetings, working groups – led by Commission members – will examine specific themes and develop proposals for the full meetings.
‘Following their first meeting the Commission stated as they establish the structure and parameters of their work programme “that, from the very beginning of our work, we have adopted the principle the best interests of a child or vulnerable adult are primary when any decision is made”. And this is certainly true for my contribution to this work,’ Bill said.
Bill Kilgallon has a strong background in social care and health services in the UK. From 1978 to 2002 he was Chief Executive of St Anne’s Community Services, which he founded in 1971. St Anne’s provides a range of housing and social-care services across Yorkshire and the North East of England for people affected by homelessness, alcohol and drug problems, mental health problems and learning disabilities. He was then Chief Executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, an independent body set up by the UK government to establish what works in social care and to develop policy and practice guidance. His last post in the UK was as Chief Executive of St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds. Bill and his family moved to New Zealand in 2010.
Bill’s substantial experience of public service includes 13 years elected to Leeds City Council and 24 years on National Health Service management boards. He led a number of independent inquiries, including into abuse in institutions, and was chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission for England and Wales.
On behalf of the Bishops of New Zealand, Archbishop John Dew said, ‘It is pleasing to us that a New Zealander can contribute to the very important work of the Commission. We’re blessed someone of Bill’s international experience and professionalism is working in this area in New Zealand and he can now contribute through the work of the Pontifical Commission whose aim is to propose the necessary changes to ensure the protection of minors throughout the global Church. As he begins this work we offer our congratulations and prayerful support to Bill and the people and work of the Commission.’