In an exclusive interview with Spotlight, South African Precious Blood Sister and Secretary General of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, Sr Hermenegild Makoro, speaks about being reappointed to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) by Pope Francis.
Sr Makoro expressed her hope that one day the Church would be spoken about – not for the historical abuse suffered by children and vulnerable adults – but recognised, rather, as one of the safest places in society for all people.
Makoro is a teacher by profession and explained that she hoped her work with children, and with church structures as secretary general of the SACBC, would be of value to the commission.
Reacting to news of her reappointment, she said that she felt so “humbled by the reappointment, but at the same time, for me, it gives me a great joy that I’m able to contribute to the well-being of the people who have been abused in the Church”.
Makoro admitted that her main concern was the recognition and prevention of abuse and the creation of awareness in all communities. She said that it is important to have proper procedures and protocols in place to deal with abuse allegations after the fact. However, she said abuse should not happen in the first place. She praised the work of the SACBC's Professional Conduct Committee, and confirmed to Spotlight that Jesuit Father Michael Lewis had been appointed as its new chairperson at the recent plenary session of the bishops' conference. She also commented that the protocols that the SACBC Professional Conduct committee currently have will soon be updated to take into account the digital world.
In the interview Makoro talks about how work on the Pontifical Commission can take its toll on members, but stressed the importance of accompanying all victims/survivors of abuse and working together to ensure that this abuse never happens again in the Church. She shared that as a member of the Commission, she walks with people who have been abused. She explains how members “share in their pain – even if it’s indirectly, but you share in their pain – to know that people are hurting and you are there to be with them, to assist where possible”.
She shared her hope that the Church would continue to work towards offering healing for all involved, not just the victim/survivor, but their family and even the family of the accused. She supported the recent call by Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, director of the Pontifical Gregorian University's Centre for Child Protection, and fellow PCPM member, for the Church to reform its administrative procedures allowing greater transparency for the victims/survivors, the accused and their superiors, in any processes. But she noted that a balance was needed which would still respect the individual.
At a time when charity and aid workers in other organisations are having to deal with revelations of abuse, the need for the development and maintenance of safe environments is clear and the work of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University is especially relevant. The centre recently launched a diploma and licentiate degree in safeguarding and Makoro told Spotlight that the SACBC has already sent one person and is looking for funding to send a further two.
Makoro said that she prays daily for victims/survivors, and for a Church that is renowned for being a safe place; a space where all forms of abuse, not only by clergy, but also by laity, in families and in the home, is a thing of the past.
Pictures/video by Frank Tuson and Katleho Khang