Conference Equips Spiritans in Kenya with Safeguarding Skills in Priestly Ministry

Participants and facilitators in the two-day conference of Spiritans in Kenya on “Safeguarding and Care of Self” held at St. Austin’s Msongari Parish of Nairobi Archdiocese 14-15 February 2023. Credit: ACI Africa

Members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) have been equipped with safeguarding skills to deal with abuses of minors and vulnerable adults in their Priestly ministry, including “fear about false allegations”.

In the two-day conference that concluded Wednesday, February 15 in Nairobi, 36 Spiritans serving in Kenya were warned that certain actions in their Priestly ministry could easily be interpreted as abuse, and that the percentage of “false allegations is very small”.

In an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of the conference, Fr. Dominic Gathurithu, the Superior of the Spiritans in Kenya and South Sudan, said that the training was aimed at equipping Priests, and some of those in formation with skills to address such false allegations.

Credit: ACI Africa

The workshop, he said, had also been organized primarily to impart the Spiritans with the knowledge of how to protect minors and vulnerable adults from abuse.


“The reason for having these safeguarding workshops is to help our members, brothers, Priests, and a few who are in the seminary to know how to deal with young people and to know how to be safe even themselves when they are dealing with young people and vulnerable adults. It is to equip them with skills to protect themselves, and to protect young people from abuse,” Fr. Gathurithu said.

He added, “It is to help our brothers in the seminary to be able to deal with a situation in which they are accused falsely of abuse. This may happen when their actions are misinterpreted and they end up being accused of abusing children.”

The Kenyan-born Spiritan Priest said that though no case of abuse has so far been reported during his ongoing tenure as Provincial Superior of the Spiritans in Kenya and South Sudan, care needed to be taken to prepare the Clergy and Religious under his administration against such a possibility. 

Credit: ACI Africa

“It has happened in the Congregation elsewhere, but not in Kenya,” he said in reference to cases of abuse, adding, “We have to be careful because these are possibilities and they can happen to anybody.”

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Fr. Gathurithu continued referencing the safeguarding conference held at St. Austin’s Msongari Parish of Nairobi Archdiocese, “We recommend that it becomes an ongoing formation. We can’t get to a point where we say that we have learnt enough; it has to continue to happen so that we are always reminded on how to deal with children and vulnerable adults.”

Issues of safeguarding in Kenya include ensuring that the fundamental rights of children are respected and that minors are protected from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect.

Speaking to ACI Africa, the two facilitators of the conference that was organized under the theme, “Safeguarding and Care of Self” said that the sessions aimed at raising awareness on issues related to safeguarding behavior in ministry “and also how Priests need to care for themselves as part of their work.”

Credit: ACI Africa

Br. Brendan Geary, a member of the Marist Brothers (FMS) from Scotland, who, alongside Fr. Barry O'Sullivan, a Diocesan Priest from Manchester, have facilitated safeguarding conferences for the last 25 years highlighted some commonalities in such conferences. 


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“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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