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Alumni Forum zooms in on International Safeguarding Conference

Our Alumni Coordinator, Br. Tony Shanahan, gives us a recap of the fourth Alumni Forum, which focused on the International Safeguarding Conference held 20-22 June at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Fewer than 100 people were able to take part in person in the recent International Safeguarding Conference in Rome. Some followed it via livestreaming; others can access some of the conference sessions via the Gregorian’s YouTube channel. It was for this reason that the most recent online Alumni Forum, on Saturday, 2 July, offered to share some highlights of the conference, which had the theme of “Reporting Abuse – Obligations, Dilemmas and Reality”. Four conference participants, two alumni and two present Licentiate students, presented their own personal “takeaways”, points from the conference that have stayed with them as significant or especially helpful.

The conference programme focused on four major themes: Implementing Vos Estis Lux Mundi (the document issued by Pope Francis in mid-2019); Challenges in Reporting to Civil Authorities; Challenges in Reporting to Church Authorities; and Supporting Victims. A feature of the conference was the variety of backgrounds and perspectives of the speakers: they came from Poland, Kenya, Italy, Nigeria, the Philippines, Ireland, Chile and Mexico. Their experience of safeguarding came through a variety of professions: psychologist, religious superior, social worker, prosecutor, canon lawyer. Some of the points made during our Zoom forum were familiar to those working in the safeguarding field: the resistance often encountered, even within congregations and church bodies; the impact of culture on what happens on the ground; the need for formation of personnel who can meet the safeguarding needs in the church; the way in which investigation processes can (unwittingly) re-victimize victims, even to inflicting on them worse trauma than the original abuse; the importance of the process being victim-centred. A distinctive feature of the conference was that all the prayers used during the conference were written by victims – we wanted to pray WITH and not just FOR victims, and to be in communion with them.

One observation that emerged at the conference, and that was echoed in our forum, was the need for independent boards or bodies that can receive and respond to complaints of abuse. Many conference participants underlined how much they valued the working groups that met after each of the thematic presentations. These helped to achieve the conference aim of fostering networking and overcoming the isolation that sometimes goes with safeguarding work. Our Zoom was just a taste of the conference’s riches, but one that might spur some to follow up the YouTube videos of conference sessions.