11/02/2015 10:59

PNG/SI Bishops finalize policy on abuse

Br. Frank Hough
Director, Right Relationships in Ministry
Catholic Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands

Since October 2014, five training sessions for Contact Persons have been held in the main regions of Papua New Guinea: Southern coast, Northern coast, the Islands, the Highlands and Western Province.  The role of the Contact Person is very important in implementing the Church Protocols, of dealing with cases of sexual abuse by Priests, Religious and Church workers.  Where does one go when they know they have been sexually abused by a representative of the Catholic Church?  The Contact Person is the one who will assist in preparing the complaint and sharing information about the Church process and other options.  The Contact Person is also in many ways the face of the Church in its compassion and healing role.

Last July in Rome when Pope Francis met with six persons who had been abused by priests, he was expected to spend ten minutes with each one.  He spent about thirty minutes with each and most of that time was the Pope listening.  One of the victims had stopped praying since being abused and has started again since meeting the Pope.  Earlier that day the six victims had attended a Eucharist with the Pope during which he apologized for the abuse.  “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”

The Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands has been developing its own procedures in response to incidents of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct for some time and the most recent edition has been published in 2014 under the title Protocols and Guidelines for Right Relationships in Ministry.  They were developed by the Conference Board for Right Relationships in Ministry in 2012 and 2013, building on earlier approved policies.  The Protocols and Guidelines had been approved by the PNGSI Bishops Conference and the Federation of Religious in 2013.  Approval for Protocol One was granted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith based in Rome at the end of the same year.

Why is there a need for three documents when one may be enough?  Protocol One presents procedures to follow when a person under the age of 18 (a minor) is sexually abused by a Priest.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has its own requirements as regards this matter.  Protocol Two deals with issues of criminal sexual abuse carried out by a Priest, Religious or Church Worker.  The Guidelines concern sexual misconduct by a Priest, Religious or Church Worker.  A Church Worker is any person working on behalf of the Church, whether paid or voluntary.  This includes Health workers, Teachers, Seminarians and secretarial staff.

Unfortunately sexual abuse takes place in all countries and in all cultures and for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands there is no exception.  The Catholic Church is seeking ways to assist those who have been abused, in a truly pastoral way, and to promote healing.  It is seeking to determine the truth as regards those who have abused and to ensure as far as possible that it does not happen again.  The Church wishes to be proactive in educating about Child Protection and Child Abuse and is fortunate to have Sr. Mary Claude Gadd and others actively promoting awareness and informing many of the importance of children and their appropriate care.

Soon to be available is the PNGSI Child Protection Policy that has been accepted by the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Federation of Religious Executive.  Hopefully this will encourage all Catholic Institutions and groups working with children to develop their own policies if not already completed.

How do we practically apply the Protocols and Guidelines?  If you know someone who has been sexually abused by a Priest, Religious or Church Worker or there has been inappropriate behaviour, take the matter to the Contact Person for the Diocese.  Generally there are two Contact Persons for each Diocese.  They will advise on possible procedures and assist in completing a Complaint Form.  They will be the link throughout the process.  As in many aspects of life, taking the first step is the hardest.

Through abuse the Church has been wounded and the Church is called to assume more strongly its healing role.  This takes place in reaching out to those abused, their families and others affected and also the abusers.  Healing takes time and requires humility and walking together.  Healing implies listening with much respect, as exemplified in Pope Francis.  In the same week in Rome that the Pope met with victims of abuse, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland, concluded his keynote speech at the Anglophone Conference on care of the abused with the following words. “My ministry has greatly benefited from what I have learned – and at time learned in a hard way – from survivors.  That is why I ask not just their forgiveness for what happened to them, but I am grateful to them for what they have done for me.”

Copies of the Protocols and Guidelines and the Child Protection Policy are available at CBC Waigani or through Diocesan Headquarters.