Child Protection Workshops for ZCBC, Religious and Clergy

By Fr Lawrence Daka SJ

 

The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops and the Religious and Clergy categorically demonstrated their resolve and commitment to addressing and preventing abuse of children and vulnerable adults and to creating a culture of safeguarding in the local Church by recently attending two workshops on Child Protection organized by the Zimbabwe-Mozambique Province Safeguarding Commission. The workshop facilitators were Fr Hans Zollner SJ, who is the President of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome. He is also a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of minors and sits on a host of other portfolios at the Vatican in the area of Child Protection. He is arguably one of the world experts on this subject. He was complemented by Brother Fortune Chakasara FSM who is based in Cape Town and arguably one of the Regional gurus on the topic. He gave the participants good grounding in our Zimbabwean context. Both workshops were held at Arrupe Jesuit University.

 

The first workshop was held on Friday 9 August 2019. Frs Fradereck Chiromba (Secretary General) and Lawrence Daka SJ coordinated the workshop. All substantive Bishops except one participated. The workshop began with a sharing of experiences of abuse the Bishops have encountered, and a prayer for the victims and perpetrators of abuse. “Victims come first” was the first point to be discussed. The Pastors were then taken through major themes in child abuse, the importance of the victim, the profile of an abuser, the formation of clergy, and above all the responsibility of Bishops in this regard. It was underlined that Bishops must take responsibility of the abuse of children and vulnerable adults by clergy, religious and anyone working in and for the Church. We should always bear in mind that when people experience abuse in the Church that becomes their experience of the Church. The Church’s new law with regards to child Protection, that is, ‘Vos estis lux mundi’ 2019 was presented and discussed at length. Fr Zollner laid more emphasis on aspects that Ordinaries needed to implement such as the requirement of setting up of a reporting office in each Diocese by 30 June 2020. The lively exchange and sharing that went on between the gathered shepherds indicated that the pastors are taking seriously the invitation to create a new and consistent culture of safeguarding so that never again should a child or vulnerable adult be subjected to abuse in the Church. In his vote of thanks, Bishop Horan of Mutare expressed the commitment of the Bishops to stamp out child and vulnerable adult abuse in the Church in Zimbabwe. It was suggested that an urgent workshop that brings together Bishops and Major religious Superiors was long overdue.

 

The second two-day workshop was held on 10 and 11 August 2019 co-ordinated by Fr. Daka SJ and Sr Rudo Matsika OP representing the CMRS. 93 Religious and Clergy participated drawn from the Conference of Major Religious Superiors (CMRS) members, Religious men and women, as well as representatives of Clergy from almost all Dioceses in the country. 

 

There were lively and sometimes heavy and lengthy reactions to the main child and vulnerable adults abuse issues. Discussions centred on many issues but more especially on formation both of seminarians and religious. The distinction between pedophilia (obsession with children before the onset of puberty) and ephebophilia (obsession with children after the onset of puberty but below 18) was spelt out and sufficiently fleshed out. Gaps in formation and lack of competent formators were seen as some of the contributing factors to child abuse and that of vulnerable adults. There is need for psycho-sexual assessments in our formation houses coupled with accountability and transparency by all. Responsible authorities are challenged to deal with what was labelled as the “submarine effect” of formation where in initial formation someone dives underwater and emerges after ordination or final vows. Participants were urged to guard against what was called ‘sexualization of pastoral relationships.’ In addition to the presentations made to the Bishops on the “Vos estis lux mundi” document, it was pointed out that it is now the law of Church that every Bishop, Clergy and religious (brothers and sisters, (whether or not in final commitment) are mandated to report to Church authorities any abuse they become aware of. Everyone should also follow the laws of their countries in this regard.

 

To deepen and render more practical the matter under discussion participants were divided into the following apostolic groups: Leadership, Early Religious life, Formation, Health, Education, and Pastoral. In these groups participants discussed all the issues pertinent to their current responsibilities. After further input each group was tasked with discussing and reporting back how concretely they were going to implement what they had learned at the workshop.

 

 

In their concluding remarks, both Fr Lawrence Daka SJ and Sr Rudo Matsika OP expressed satisfaction with the workshop: that the goal was met and the graces hoped for were received. Participants were urged to own the topic, take first steps and realize that they had work to do. There was need for each focus group or apostolic group to meet and discuss at length pertinent and relevant issues in their area of engagement. The Church is challenged today to creating a consistent culture of child protection and by so doing reclaim the moral authority that she has lost by the abuse perpetrated by clergy and religions. That time is now.

 
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