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Sunday, 30 June 2019 09:19

Form and prevent, a response of the laity in the face of abuse


The annual meeting of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life with representatives of the laity, has had this year as a theme “Prevention of sexual abuse: commitment of ecclesial associations and movements.”

farrelletghisoniCarmen Serrano, educational psychologist specialized in this field and member of the fairtreatment Commission, together with Laura Vaccaro, jurist and advisory member of the fairtreatment Commission, represented the TA in this forum whose aim was to involve associations and lay movements in the eradication of this tragic problem and in the global work for the creation of healthy intra-ecclesial and social spaces, without abuses.

Tip of the iceberg

At the beginning of the sessions, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who presides the Dicastery, underscored the urgency with which Pope Francis "asks us to act, in all social and ecclesial contexts, by bringing to light, facing this reality, with transparency, calling things by their name with courage, undertaking the necessary purification and putting in place measures of prevention."

At several moments it was mentioned that we are only at the tip of the iceberg of a reality -abuses- that is ecclesial, but above all social. It was also pointed out how the silence and the complicit concealment have made it grow and expand more.

In the course of the intense day, celebrated on June 13th at the Curia of the Jesuits in Rome, there was the participation of Cardinal Farrell, Linda Ghisoni -Deputy Secretary of the Dicastery-, Philip Milligan -the head of its legal department-, and the Jesuit Hans Zollner -president of the "Center for the protection of children" and director of the Institute of Psychology of the Gregorian University.

Testimonies were heard both from the speakers as well as from some victims of abuse. To take care, to listen and to accompany the victims was one of the needs that they repeatedly expressed.

farrellyjesuitaPower behind abuse

Linda Ghisoni, based on the testimony of three abused women, pointed out the power plot that hides any abuse and she also presented the spiritual effects of the abusive relationships often suffered by the victims sometimes for years.

The challenge for lay organizations, said Ghisoni, is “to create healthy environments, of true and free service to the Lord and the Gospel; information is needed, transparent procedures; to invest in adequate education at the emotional and sexual level; it is also necessary to rethink the structures.”

In this sense, she referred to situations in which authoritarian styles are still observed in lay groups where the person does not count and where abuses are most easily found. "The ecclesial responsibility that has been entrusted to us," she said, "requires us to be attentive, not to be naive, and to prevent, to establish healthy and free relationships, not those of subjection."

participantes vaticanVulnerable person

Philip Milligan, head of the Legal Department of the Dicastery, explained the legal instruments that the Church has in order to deal with cases of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people. He referred in particular to the recent Motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi (Papal document You are the Light of the World, May 7th, 2019) to explain the definition of "vulnerable person" formulated by Pope Francis, which considers as such people who "even occasionally" are limited in their ability to understand, consent or even to "resist the offense".

In the afternoon, the Jesuit Hans Zollner, made a call to take seriously the educational challenge for adequate prevention that protects the smallest and most vulnerable of the crime of sexual abuse. Formation works! he said emphatically. And he presented a broad panorama of what the Church is doing to confront this scourge; regarding the associations, they are obliged to take into account the legislation of the place where they live and work, committing themselves to prevention. We should not repeat past mistakes but learn from each other, he stressed.

Those responsible for two associations that have faced allegations of abuse in their midst shared the process they have undergone, and the experience and lessons learned from these situations.

The day was moderated by Giovanni Buontempo, head of the Department of Relations with Movements and Associations, who urged everyone to be proactive in the process of raising awareness about this issue among all the faithful, taking advantage of the network of relationships existing between groups and families, in order to inform, train and prevent.

Text: R. Marín with information from C. Serrano.
Photographs: Lay, Family and Life Dicastery.
Translation: C. Zabalegui and R. Cameron.