By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
The International Union of Superiors General hosted the third in a four-part Safeguarding webinar on Tuesday. Guest speaker Dr Gabriel Dy-Liacco treated the topic on Victomology and the Relational Safety Model.
Sr Pat Murray, Executive Secretary for the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) announced two initiatives prior to the webinar. She said that on 22 June the first meeting took place of the Joint Commission for Care of the UISG and its male counterpart, the Union of Superiors General (USG) . The Commission is comprised of five representatives from each organization. This joint commission, Sr Pat said, “will lead our efforts into the future to work with Congregations and others on the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”
But that was not all. There are “two other developments”, Sr Pat continued. The UISG has established two offices: the Office for Care and Protection and Catholic Care for Children International. “Together”, Sr Pat explained, “they form a world-wide initiative to join with those who are focusing on moving children from institutional-based care to family-based care”.
Vision of safeguarding
The webinar then proceeded with guest speaker Dr Gabriel Dy-Liacco, psychologist, father of five from the Philippines, and founding member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. “Safeguarding is a mission, not a task to be performed”, Dr Dy-Liacco began. This is not his idea, it is Pope Francis’s, who also considers the safeguarding of children to be part of the new evangelization. The worst impediment to this mission in the Church, Dr Dy-liacco says, is fear. This fear can only be overcome through “spirituality, and a sense of vocation” which will help us become more fruitful as we serve all those in the Church have suffered any form of abuse.
Dr Dy-Liacco presented the three necessary conditions for abuse to occur, setting off the cycle of victimology. (1) A vulnerable person is in the presence of an (2) offender who always abuses his or her own power, in the (3) absence of a guardian whose task is to protect the vulnerable person. Whenever a child is in the presence of an offender in the absence of a guardian, Dr Dy-Liacco said there is a 90% chance that the child will be abused.
In the Church’s case, he said, what has been lacking is the Church’s ability to be a guardian. “We have not guarded our minors and vulnerable persons well”, he said. In fact, “just the opposite has been the case: it has denied allegations, covered up the facts, provided a lot of resources for the offenders for rehabilitation, but not much for victims”. He compared the proliferation of other types of ministries at the diocesan level in the Church, such as Youth Ministry and Care for Creation. Yet, the same proliferation of safeguarding children in every diocese in the Church still has not happened.
Offenders in the Church
Dr Dy-Liacco then presented statistics from the United States, Australia and Germany where studies on the sexual abuse of minors by priests have been conducted and can be considered reliable. One statistic shows that serial offenders begin offending within the first year of ordination, and did not discriminate their victims or sexual partners based on age or gender. Behavior common to both serial offenders and occasional offenders is the way in which they groomed their victims with attention, gifts and privileges to entice the victim to comply to their demands.
Another statistic shows that priests treated for sexual abusing minors are more likely to have suffered abuse in their past. This percentage is much higher in priests than the 20% in the general public. Priests who sexually abuse children exhibit difficulty in maintaining relationships with other adults but maintain relationships easily with adolescents. They also tend to cope with stress through other addictive behavior such as abusing alcohol or food, or engage in gambling.
These studies also show that 80% of priests who have sexually abused minors have sexual relationships with adults of both sexes as well. Therefore, statistics show that sexual orientation does not predict that a priest will offend. What can predict offending is access to vulnerable persons without the supervision of other adults acting as the guardian.
Church as guardian
Dr Dy-Liacco said that the first admonition against sexual relationships of men with boys is in the Didaché, written in 80AD, attesting to the fact that this has been a problem in the Church for a long time. “Our institutional response is improving but lags behind in some parts of the world”, Dr Dy-Liacco says. He then indicated such built-in structural factors in the Church that make it difficult to provide safe environments for children. These include a high level of isolation on the part of diocesan priests and little direct supervision.
Secondly, he said that Church leaders have historically focused their response on the priest perpetrators, rather than on the persons who endured the abuse. It was dealt with in secret because of the pontifical secret and other systems in place, which was finally lifted by Pope Francis in December 2020. Offending priests would be sent away for treatment, returned to ministry, and moved to a different parish, often only to offend again. Now the person is placed on administrative leave and faculties are restricted.
Why does this happen
In an institution that is completely opposed to such horrific acts, Dr Dy-Liacco asks the question, “Why? Why does it happen in the Church and why has it been going on for so long?” His answer: It has happened because members in the Church neglected their role as guardian, and other members of the Church used people in their care to satisfy their own disordered needs rather than bringing them to God.
Levels of safeguarding
The role of guardian, Dr Dy-Liacco explains, has three levels. It begins with the self-care of the person providing the safeguarding. The safeguarder must first of all be safe with themselves so as to be safe with others and assure the safety of others. These people then form a network with other safe adults in order to create a safe community. These two factors then build safe systems or structures in which safe ministry can be provided in a safe environment.
How safe is safe?
All three levels of safeguarding need to be present in order for the Church to be a safe place for all people, especially children and other vulnerable persons. In such an organization, Dr Dy-Liacco says, offenders would not be hidden, victims would not be told to keep silent, and all adults would make it a priority for safeguarding measures to be implemented. Dr Dy-Liacco concluded asking, “How safe does the Church need to be? As safe as her model itself: as safe as Christ” who allowed children to come near and who said that anyone who offends them should have a millstone tied around their necks and cast into the sea….