“Creating Safe Spaces” – Prevention of abuse and the Mission of the Church

- An online formation to the VDMfam in United Kingdom

The Church, and our Verbum Dei community, have the mission of creating safe spaces – places where minors and vulnerable persons are not only protected, but are safe and can also flourish. 
Continuing the series of formations organised by Margarida (Londral) and the Verbum Dei UK community, James McTavish, (a member of Verbum Dei’s APA – Assessment and Prevention of Abuse team), gave a formation to the VDMFam in UK. As it was online, Verbum Dei members from other countries were able to join including those in Israel, Ireland, Switzerland and Portugal
The topics covered were: the clerical abuse crisis in the Church, abuse of power, spiritual abuse and abuse of conscience, and the efforts of the Church to promote a culture of safeguarding. We were reminded that we have all been given power – and at the root of ALL abuse is the abuse of power. Abuses of all types produce wounds in the victim(s), and we should be attentive to the varied consequences of abuse.
The reality of abuse is a very challenging one and “sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, no. 270). To overcome this temptation, we must shift from a purely REACTIVE attitude to one that is more PROACTIVE. We react to news stories or national reports, but we can also choose to be proactive by forming ourselves better as safeguarders. And this change involves ALL of us, not being merely optional, but actually it is part of the MISSION of the whole Church: “The protection of minors and vulnerable persons is an integral part of the Gospel message that the Church and all its members are called to proclaim throughout the world.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic letter On the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable persons, 26 March 2019).
The session closed with Q and A. Issues raised included the challenge of identifying spiritual abuse. The reply focused on the point that “the tree is known by its fruits” – that often the veracity of the abuse is only understood by listening to damaging consequences in the victim. Another participant also raised the important point that the formation for clergy (and we can add all members of consecrated life) needs improving. Questions were also asked about the reporting procedures and the participants were informed that each Diocese and Congregation will have its relevant protocols, and that there is also an existing Vademecum of the Church for this (https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/ddf/rc_ddf_doc_20220605_vademecum-casi-abuso-2.0_en.html).
There is still work to be done, but amidst the various challenges, there is hope that the Church and its members can create safe spaces in their different environments, where all, especially minors and vulnerable persons, can grow and flourish. As Pope Francis noted, “the Church loves all her children like a loving mother, but cares for all and protects with a special affection those who are smallest and defenceless. This is the duty that Christ himself entrusted to the entire Christian community as a whole. Aware of this, the Church is especially vigilant in protecting children and vulnerable adults. This duty of care and protection devolves upon the whole Church…” (Pope Francis, “As a Loving Mother,” 4 June 2016).

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