Credit: ACI Africa
“One of the things that struck me amongst the priests and the religious is that there is a common fear amongst the priests throughout the world where we have been facilitating workshops. There's a common fear about false allegations, there's a lack of confidence about institutional handling of the crisis of child sexual abuse,” Br. Geary said.
Br. Geary, however, noted that of reported cases of abuse involving Priests and the Religious, only 5 percent emerge as false accusations. The rest, he said, are unfortunately true.
“The number of false allegations is very small. Every one of them is painful. It's a pity that happens, but 95 percent are true. So that's the first thing to reassure Priests that the likelihood (of false allegations) is very, very small,” the Religious brother said.
Fr. Barry and Br. Geary told ACI Africa that they have already conducted safeguarding workshops in the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Spain.
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In Africa, they have been to six countries, including Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana.
“We are hoping over the next few years to expand that to other parts. We're going to do some work, hopefully, in India and Pakistan,” Br. Geary said.
Underlining the need for the Church to fully embrace safeguarding, Br. Geary said, “The issue of safeguarding is hugely important in the Church, and Pope Francis has said, yes, we must have policies for what we do. But really, we need to create a culture of safeguarding.”
“Our experience in our part of the world is there are many Priests and Religious who are tired of the subject because it has been very painful,” he said.
Workshops are aimed at forming better ministers who are more sensitive to other people, especially women, and children, Br. Geary told ACI Africa February 15.
Credit: ACI Africa
He noted that though the workshops are directed towards Priests and women and men Religious, the hope is to foster the need for safeguarding workshops for women religious. Training of women Religious has already been facilitated once in Tanzania, Br. Gearry said.
The FMS member expressed a desire to create sustainable formation in safeguarding in African countries, saying, “We need people in Africa to be formators in this area. We need people to do training like the very fine course in Rome that is offered and other courses so that other people can do similar things that we are doing here.”
“All we are doing is a drop in the ocean,” he said, and added, “All we can do is begin what's been very positive everywhere we have gone. Some Priests have shown an interest in this topic because they see it's important.”
Highlighting the impact of the safeguarding conference for the Spiritans in Kenya, Fr. Barry said, “One of the things that I find reassuring and gives me hope for the future is how well this has been received from the men and the women who've been present at the workshops.”
Those who had participated in the workshops before, the Catholic Priest from Manchester said, had been receptive and responsive.
Credit: ACI Africa
“That gives me hope,” Fr. Barry said of participants’ response to the safeguarding conferences, and added, “There's a lot of energy in the room, a lot of enthusiasm. And whilst it's a very difficult area and it's a difficult time for the Church, I'm confident that we'll get through this, not least because the resource of our Priests and Religious men and women will get us through it because their commitment and resilience is quite staggering and very enthusiastic about their response; it's very encouraging.”
Meanwhile, in his message to Spiritans in Kenya and South Sudan, Fr. Gathurithu has encouraged his confreres to embrace safeguarding training as the norm.
“I appreciate that many of our members understand that there's a problem in the church on this matter of safeguarding, and they understand the need to attend workshops and to be educated and more informed on how to deal with these matters. Let us embrace it,” he said.
Fr. Gathurithu said that the workshops are not like rules to limit the freedom of the Religious, but a way to help them to better serve the people, especially children and vulnerable populations.
“Let us all, in the province of Kenya and South Sudan, accept this as the reality today,” the Spiritan Provincial Superior told ACI Africa, and added, “We need to know how to deal with the people that we evangelize.”
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