By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
About 250 people gathered in an online roundtable on Tuesday. It was the first of many events planned and organized jointly by the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), and the two international organizations which represent women religious (the International Union of Superiors General, or UISG) and men religious (the Union of Superiors General, or USG).
Brother Emili Turú, the Secretary of the USG, spoke on behalf of the event organizers. Promoting a culture of protection from the perspective of inculturation are two valid points for today’s Church, Brother Emil stated.
The collaboration between the USG, UISG and the PCPM, he continued, expresses the will of all three organizations to put all their resources together to eliminate abuse in the Church so that children and vulnerable persons find a safe welcome in the Church. He also cited Pope Francis who himself has encouraged organizations to unite forces in order to combat the abuse of children both in the Church and in society.
Toward a culture of care for children
Bishop Luis Manuel Alí Herrera, Auxiliary Bishop of Bogotá, Psychologist and member of the PCPM, opened the roundtable discussion. Protecting children in any given culture requires knowledge of both the lights and shadows in the culture regarding its treatment of children, he said. Statistics show that, in Latin America, 80% of sexual abuse takes place within the family. Various factors contribute to the perpetuation of this culture, ignorance and denial among them. Statistics also show that trafficking of minors and sexual exploitation of adolescents is growing, especially among minors from Venezuela who have had to migrate to other countries.
In a Church whose model of greatness proposed by Jesus is a child, we are called to create a culture in which children and vulnerable persons are protected in whatever environments in which they move, beginning with the family, he said. It is especially there that their innocence can be protected so as to grow, or they can be exploited and destroyed as any other object used for personal or political gain.
Bishop Herrera proposed St Joseph as our model. He protected two vulnerable people, Mary and Jesus. Jesus’ life, he noted, was threatened not only right after His birth. A hostile occupier was already exploiting His family and His people, which resulted in the forced migration of His family to Bethlehem, where He was born. Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed an adult in His life to protect Him when He was a child.
Discerning cultural values for safeguarding
Dr Gabriel Dy-Liacco, a psychotherapist, pastoral counsellor, father of 5 children, and member of the PCPM, focused on how cultural values drive differences in cultures.
Even within a culture, he continued, the way cultural values are expressed sometimes differ according to how these values are understood, welcomed, and lived out. Personal awareness at this level is necessary, especially in those who serve in pastoral ministry, so that there is no dichotomy between Christian values and how they are welcomed, internalized and externally manifested.
Pastoral ministers need help to express the details of what is actually happening both personally and in the communities in which they serve. Once a person or a community is aware of possible dichotomies between the values and what is lived out, a path of transformation and integration can take place. The goal of this process is that those in ministry are truly at the service of others, rather than making those they serve, serve their disordered needs.
Dr Dy-Liacco observed that putting this process at the service of safeguarding in each culture would actually contribute to the formation of the entire person and eventually lead to greater “psychological, affective, sexual, interpersonal, intellectual, physical and moral” maturity. Echoing Bishop Herrera, Dr Dy-Liaco also emphasized that both negative and positive aspects of cultural values and how they are expressed within cultures is necessary to this process. Should this process take place in various Christian communities and their members, it would allow anyone to enter into “healthy intimacy without fear of being used, taken advantage of, or abused”, with them.
Anyone who approaches a person who has gone through this type of transformation, would be able to draw closer to Christ Himself.
Making childcare institutions safe
Sr Alice Jacan, a Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Uganda, a civil lawyer, and human rights activist specifically in the area of child protection, opened her presentation saying that the very institutions that take care of children are actually the same places in which they are abused.
Sr Alice reviewed international and African guidelines and charters in place, as well as Uganda’s legal framework – all of which favor the welfare of children and the importance of the family. Yet, she reported that even childcare, at times, has become a business in which profit is the driving factor, rather than the children being cared for.
Regarding the Church’s legal framework, Sr Alice underlined that protection of children is manifested in various Canon laws, among which are: the protection of children from conception through the outlawing of abortion; the need for parents to take care of children from previous marriages; it states the moral and civil obligations of parents towards their children, which include support and education; it places the duty on the parents to provide for the physical, social, cultural, moral and religious education of their children.
Lastly, she mentioned the recent updates in Church legislation as it grapples with the specific phenomenon of the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy.