Safeguarding Minors in International Contexts: Training at the MSSP International House of Formation

Rejoice therefore and strive to respond to your vocation and your dignity. Give yourself willingly to work in the Lord’s vineyard. “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” (Lk 10:2) Always be a good example to the people; in your thoughts, in your affectivity, in your words, in your ministry and in all your life so that it may be said of you: “Here is a servant pleasing to God.”

Joseph De Piro

On Wednesday 3 July 2019, our novices, temporary professed brothers and formators at the International House of Formation in Manila participated in a three-day training program on Safeguarding Minors in International Contexts. Mindful of the commitment of the MSSP to build safe communities of hope in all areas where we minister, this training provided a significant opportunity for those in formation to reflect on how the MSSP as Church can develop safe environments for our children and vulnerable people.

Sadly, our period of history is now indisputably marked by an acknowledgement that the universal Church has not always been a place of safety and care and that we stand in need of radical redemption. The Church seeks to bring about a new way of thinking. We pray for a healthier community and a stronger, safer Church where we prioritise the safety of our most vulnerable and of ‘the little ones’ who have special place in the Kingdom.

Through this training program, the MSSP hoped to develop amongst those in formation a sustained mindfulness of our moral, legal and spiritual obligations to safeguard all those within our communities of faith. Facilitated just prior to their pastoral year, this training was an invaluable opportunity for our novices and temporary professed brothers to develop an increased awareness of the nature and causes of clergy sexual abuse in institutional contexts; the critical role that prevention can play in making our ministries more child-safe; and providing guidance for how they should handle complaints, allegations and disclosures of sexual abuse.

The training consisted of nine modules which provided participants with a comprehensive summary of the basic tenets of safeguarding children and explored how MSSP members can enact a commitment to children’s safety in their day to day ministries. Drawing from a range of research and international government enquiries, topics included:

  • The Catholic Church & The Abuse of Minors – An Overview
  • The Theology of the Child
  • The Impact of Clerical Sexual Abuse
  • Common failures in Church Response and Contributing Factors
  • Safeguarding Policies and Standards – Examples of Best Practice

During the program, participants explored the challenges of promoting and creating cultures of safeguarding in cross-cultural situations which take into account relevant international declarations and local legislation. A key focus in discussions, then, was on the diverse experiences of children in differing contexts, countries and continents, and the need for those in pastoral ministry to develop the requisite skills to critically reflect on, adapt and apply safeguarding principles to international contexts. No easy task but one which we will continue to explore in the months and years ahead.

Another common thread running throughout our discussions was the need for the safeguarding of children to become embedded in our culture, into our core, and into our hearts. The safeguarding of minors is not an add-on but an integral component of our ministry. In the spirit of Joseph De Piro whose care of the young and the vulnerable transformed deep wounds into a source of new life, we must continue to reflect upon how we might be more purposeful, responsible and accountable in our ministries.

Mrs Geralyn McCarthy is the MSSP Lay Safeguarding Officer from our Australian Province.

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