“We Are All Responsible for Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults!”
By Sr. Jecinter Antoinette Okoth, FSSA (AMECEA) & Sr. Dr. Jacinta Ondeng SSND (TUC)
On the 8th and 9th November 2021, the fourth-year Theology students and third-year students of the department of Philosophy were privileged to have two guest speakers talk to them on the topic “Safeguarding of Minors and Vulnerable Adults within the context of the Church.” The two speakers based in Rome were Fr. Prof. Hans Zollner SJ and Fr. Prof. Kevin Mwandha SDB.
“We are all responsible for the protection and safeguarding of minors and the vulnerable adults,” Fr. Mwandha, a professor and head of the department of Canon Law at the Pontifical Salesians Univesity, Rome reminded the students at a virtual session on Tuesday, November 9. He emphasized that safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults is not just the role of some individuals in the Church but “all of us.”
Fr. Mwandha explained that it is an essential duty of every believer “to be a shining example of virtue, integrity and holiness, to give concrete witness of faith in Christ, in our lives and in our relationship with others,” hence the call to a “concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church.”
He acknowledged that we are all called to holiness “a journey every human person travels every day to fulfill and we live in a society that witnessing of Christ must be manifested through our lives and in our relationship with others.”
Giving reference to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” (You are the light of the world, 2019)- the Church’s new procedural norms to combat sexual abuse that ensure that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for their actions, Fr. Mwandha underscored that “crimes of sexual abuse offend our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful.” For that matter he said, Pope Francis has issued procedures which are to be adopted universally to prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful.
The Kenyan cleric further highlighted some of the procedures from the Apostolic Letter and the canon laws to be applied reminding the seminarians that “The ecclesiastical Authorities shall commit themselves to ensuring that those who state that they have been harmed, together with their families, are to be treated with dignity and respect.”
On his part Fr. Prof. Hans Zollner SJ, a member of the Pontifical Commission for Safeguarding of Minors (Roman Curia) on 8th November 2021 talked about the “Global Perspectives on the Sex Abuse Crisis.” He emphasized that safeguarding of minors and vulnerable persons remains a pastoral concern and must be part and parcel of the mission of the Church.
The German Clergy who heads the Institute of Anthropology. Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care, Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, expounded that minors and vulnerable persons in our society should be made to feel safe in “our homes, Church, institutions, and within any kind of spiritual pastoral atmosphere.” This calls for the development of active, functioning and robust safeguarding procedures within Church and all institutions that particularly work with children.
Fr. Zollner, an authority- writer and widely traveled speaker across the globe on clergy/religious sexual abuses advised the seminarians to always learn from the survivors of abuse and “protect the image of the Church, and be honest with God.” He further reminded them on their role in shunning away from “clericalism attitudes” highly associated with cleric/religious child sexual abuses and other forms of abuses including financial abuses within the Church cycles. Fr. Zollner reminded the future clergy of the importance of accountability and transparency in all of their undertakings as ministers of the Church.
On a positive note, Fr. Zollner expressed that a lot has been done so far by the Church since the promulgation of Motu Proprio vos lux estis mundi in Feb 2019. He noted that there is evidently a change from the “Head to the Heart” by many on matters of safeguarding and protection of children and vulnerable adults in the Church across the globe.
The moderator of the two sessions, Sr. Dr. Jacinta Ondeng, who teaches the course on Safeguarding of Minors and Vulnerable Adults at the School for Theology highlighted at the opening of the forum that the talks were in response by Tangaza University College to enhance efforts by the global Church and community in promoting safeguarding of children/minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and society. She noted that our active response was motivated by Pope Francis call: “Child and Vulnerable Adult Safeguarding must be imbedded into Church life across the globe.” (February 2019, Rome: Global Meeting on Sexual Abuses of Minors and Vulnerable Adults).
According to Sr. Ondeng, a member of the congregation of School Sisters of Notre Dame, the two sessions presented to over 100 students from more than 25 religious congregations/societies/orders was not only to benefit the future priests but also the formators who journey with them in their daily formation. The formators were invited to join the online presentations.
Sr. Ondeng expressed her gratitude to Fr. Zollner SJ and Fr. Mwandha SDB for their unweaving support and mentorship over the last two years to Tangaza University College in its efforts towards curbing child and vulnerable adults sexual abuses within the Church and Society. As religious and ministers in the Church we cannot afford to be spectators in the field of safeguarding. We remain committed to doing our part.