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Children attending Mass on Sunday in the Dominican Republic Children attending Mass on Sunday in the Dominican Republic  (afp)

Safeguarding begins with Theology of Childhood

Several organizations team up to present a series of webinars directed toward raising awareness of the ongoing need to safeguard children, youth and vulnerable adults.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

Four organizations are together presenting a “Safeguarding Webinar Series”. The series is the initiative of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), with the collaboration of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), the Centre for Child Protection of the Gregorian University and Telefono Azzurro in Italy.

The first webinar in the series takes place on Monday 8 June, 2:00-3:30pm CEST. It’s theme is “Safeguarding children, youth and vulnerable adults and the need for a consistent theology of childhood”, presented by Sr Nuala Kenny of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax.

Safeguarding webinars fruit of collaboration

According to PCPM Project Manager Emer McCarthy, as of Thursday, 5 June, 400 people “from Guatemala to Burkina Faso to Sri Lanka, a wonderful array of nationalities” had already signed up for the first webinar. Two days later, registration closed due to an additional 330 registrations. In addition to the possibility of live participation in the webinar, both the UISG and the PCPM will be streaming the event on line for all who were unable to register.

Speaking to Vatican News, Emer explained that this series of webinars is the fruit of an ongoing collaboration with UISG and their male counterpart. The PCPM is principally focused on directing their efforts toward the safeguarding of children. Many children benefit from the ministry of men and women religious in schools, child care centers, hospitals and other structures throughout the world. “Men and women religious really are on the front lines of caring for children and vulnerable people in our Church”, Emer confirmed. The ongoing collaboration “came to an abrupt halt” because of the pandemic, she said. The webinar series was created as a response to the concern of Members of the PCPM “to keep safeguarding awareness alive during the pandemic, given the increased risks” experienced by children and vulnerable persons due to lockdown restrictions.

Listen to the interview with Emer McCarthy, Project Manager for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors

Theology of Children

The topic of the first webinar will target the “need for a consistent theology of childhood”. “It’s highly significant”, Emer states. The need for developing a consistent theology of childhood in the Church is a conclusion reached by people at all levels of the Church, she says: catechists, local bishops as well as Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences. While individual theologians have begun to research and write articles on the subject, Emer says there still is no “core text”. “We really need one to underpin why you need to safeguard children, why we as the Church, why we as Christians and Catholics, are called to place children in our midst as Christ did.” One of Sr Nuala Kenny’s messages, she continues, is that part of Jesus’s countercultural message is that He “put the children front and center”.             

Progress after Meeting on the Protection of Minors

When asked what progress has been made since the February 2019 Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Vatican, and what still needs to be done, Emer acknowledged the Taskforce created in February 2020 and the legislation established through Vos estis lux mundi. In terms of what still needs to be done, she quoted one of the PCPM Members, a father of five children and a psychologist, who says, “we can never become complacent.” “Safeguarding and safeguarding awareness is not just something you do with your head. You have to do it with your heart. You have to accept that this is something that is an integral part of our mission.”

Safeguarding requires confersion

Safeguarding, Emer clarifies, “involves a conversion, that can only come about when people are confronted with the absence of safeguarding”. This requires listening to “those who bear the horrible consequences” of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy. Their stories manifest this “absence of safeguarding” and, therefore, indicate what needs to be done to safeguard others. Listening to them is one of the primary mandates of the PCPM. Through the PCPM, their voices have reached higher levels of leadership in the Church. “We can  never be complacent”, Emer repeated. “We can make progress with laws, with norms, with structures. But until the people who are actually working with children and vulnerable people in the Church understand the practical implications of what being aware of safeguarding is, then we can never say we have solved the problem.”

Upcoming webinars

June 18 11:30 CEST – Fr. Hans Zollner SJ “Safeguarding online in times of lockdown”
June 30 11:30 CEST – Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liacco “Victimology and the Relational Safety Model”
July 6 11:30 CEST – Prof. Caffo “Care for children after lockdown - how has the pandemic altered our relationships?”

08 June 2020, 11:14