Safeguarding by Choice Not Chance

Words: Helena Kesina

Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home. Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors” – Pope Francis, February 2015

As a mum of five young children, I want my children to not only feel safe but be safe, wherever they are. The Pope’s words emphasise that safeguarding is everybody’s responsibility and integral to being Church, so it is a choice we must commit to, and not leave to chance. Put more simply, you and I, the Church, must be aware of the call for safeguarding, especially in the wake of the Church’s failing to do so in the past.

So what is safeguarding? Above all it is about prevention and protecting children and vulnerable adults from harm. Keeping my children safe is the divine Safeguarding imageprivilege I have as their mother. However, the call to safeguarding and the act itself, challenges me, as it requires me to do new and courageous things, for I can not anticipate every situation or behaviour we will encounter as a family.

For example, I recently took my children to an event at a nature reserve. We were gathered together in a hut admiring the view and a complete stranger started taking photos of my children and others without asking consent. I initially stood there and watched this happen without intervening, but just as I was about to approach the person, they presented their credentials and the reason for taking the photos, which were to be used in public media. In my personal opinion we both failed to proactively safeguard the children.

The reality for many of us is that we have experienced some form of harm. This may have been physical, emotional, sexual, neglect or spiritual abuse. Recently, I was touched by the testimony of a Christian woman who experienced childhood abuse. She says the experience disrupts “a sense of being loved by God, a sense of community with others and trust in God’s plan and purpose for the future.” (Hall, 1995, p129). This person’s experience reiterates that the consequence of not responding or preventing harm to children and vulnerable people is not just damaging to the individual, but to communities and the whole Church. Our responses to safeguarding must be without stumbling blocks of ignorance, fear, compassion fatigue, or the failure to recognise the experiences that so many carry within our communities.

“Protecting children is everyone’s business: Play your part” is the theme for the 26th National Child Protection Week which kicks off on Fathers Day, 4 September. This year all Australians are invited to play their part to promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. Our Archdiocese, together with the Institute for Professional Standards and Safeguarding, fully supports this theme. The Institute’s work proclaims the dignity of children and vulnerable people, works toward justice and mercy to victims of abuse through expert healing and support, combined with procedural fairness, and seeks to facilitate strong, supportive and right relationships for all people in the Archdiocese.

In commissioning the Institute in March 2016, Archbishop Christopher stated “the aim is to support survivors with the reassurance that all our communities are safe, our children and vulnerable people are truly cared for, and the spiritual dimension of all we do is not compromised by unethical and criminal behaviour”. If you would like to learn more about professional standards and safeguarding, please visit the website for the Institute for Professional Standards and Safeguarding at http://cgcatholic.org.au/services-directory/professional-standards/.