New child protection experts graduate from Rome's Jesuit university

IMAGE: CNS/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Before students were presented with
their diplomas in safeguarding minors, they each received a logoed mug as a
memento of their time in the Center for Child Protection’s intensive program at
the Pontifical Gregorian University.

The cup might come in handy because their task of
promoting child protection will be hard, and “you will be working late, so
you will be drinking lots of tea,” psychology professor Katharina Fuchs
said good-heartedly at the start of the informal graduation ceremony. The
graduates — 24 men and women from 18 different countries — would be going
back to their dioceses, bishops’ conferences or religious orders to kick-start
or strengthen child protection policies and measures.

The ceremony, held June 14 at the Gregorian University,
included a panel discussion with five post-doctoral students and a poster
exhibition of all 24 students’ final theses and research. Drew Dillingham of
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Child and Youth Protection Office was
one of those completing the program.

A Capuchin Sister of the Sacred Heart, who works in
Slovakia, did her final project on how communism and, before that,
centuries-long monarchical rule created a favorable environment for abuse and
secrecy because the political systems thrived on and encouraged subordination,
passivity and avoidance of responsibility.

Sister Agnieszka Jarkowska said communism also encouraged
keeping up appearances and a suppression of public opinion and speech. All of
these conditions fed known risk factors for abuse: a concentration of power and
authority in one person, fear, mistrust and isolation, she said.

Still today, talking about anything that has to do with
sexuality is taboo, families are closed isolated systems, and even the media
doesn’t talk about abuse. “It’s as if it doesn’t exist,” she told
Catholic News Service.

Father Bennette Tang Bacheyie of the Diocese of Wa,
Ghana, looked at the common, accepted practice of physical and emotional
abuse in his country’s school system.

UNICEF reported in 2014 that 80 percent of children in
Ghana experience violent discipline in school, Father Bacheyie said. Even minor
transgressions like being late, making noise or forgetting homework are
considered to be deserving of corporal punishment. Caning and bullying are
common as well as other rituals, he said, pointing to a photograph on his
poster presentation showing boys in school uniform kneeling on the hard ground
holding a large rock high over their heads.

Father Bacheyie said he will return to Wa to help all 300
Catholic schools in the diocese create a safe school environment by training
and educating teachers, caregivers and staff on more effective and humane ways
to correct and motivate students, and to teach children “to expose abuse
and not stay silent.”

He said he plans to create a diocesan youth protection
team made up of professionals with different expertise, such as law
enforcement, health workers and social workers, so they can build the right
kind of policy for schools, which in turn, will need to create their own child
protection teams.

The hope is that if kids grow up in a safe environment
where guidance and discipline can still protect and respect their rights and
dignity, “they will have the right tools and know how to treat
children” when they are adults, passing that culture down to each
successive generation.

Father Dominic Nnoshiri, a member of the Spiritans
southeast Nigeria province, looked at the importance of forming open, honest
and mature men in seminaries.

Too often, he said, there is a lack of knowledge and
meaningful discussion in seminaries about human sexuality; overcrowding; too
much isolation from “the reality of their future ministry”;
victimization of seminarians who are transparent about their sexuality; and a
lack of trust between candidates and formators.

Candidates for the priesthood and religious life need
psychosocial, emotional and relational support so they can talk about and
prepare for a life of chastity, he said. There also must be healthy and open
discussion about respecting boundaries and sexuality, “expressing it
positively rather than denying or repressing it.”

Professionals should be involved in screening candidates,
he said, and women should be involved in formation.

Father Nnoshiri also said some practices in Nigeria’s
Igbo culture could be integrated in formation, such as wearing simple attire as
a reminder of humility and service, taking an oath of fidelity to one’s
priestly ministry and understanding sacredness in terms of respecting the body
of others.

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of Center for Child
Protection, praised the diversity of backgrounds, roles and expertise he saw in
the new batch of graduates and expressed great hopes they will make important
inroads in their nations where, for the majority of them, sex abuse is not even
talked about or acknowledged.

While ensuring child protection is going to be “a
long and demanding journey,” the center’s first graduates, who finished
the course in 2016, already are making a difference, he said.

The graduates create networks and alliances, conduct
workshops and give talks on child protection for the church and anyone who
requests their help, like NGOs, sports associations and sometimes the
government.

“They are considered experts,” he said, because
“about 75 percent of all countries have almost nothing in terms of
expertise and competence” in the field of abuse prevention and child
protection.

With such a need and demand for experts, Father Zollner
said the Pontifical Gregorian University plans to offer a new master’s degree
in safeguarding, promoted by the Center for Child Protection.

The two-year degree will follow a multidisciplinary
approach just like the current certificate program, and it will offer special
electives tailored for professionals taking the course, like medical doctors,
psychiatrists, psychologists, lawyers and canon lawyers, he said. It will also
include completing a semester-long internship.

Building this new army of experts in safeguarding
“will have a snowball effect,” he said. “Wherever these
(students) have been asked to speak publicly, then suddenly people realize you
are allowed to talk about it, you can talk about it” and make a
difference.

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Source: Catholic News

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