Fostering Ethical Standards in the Jesuit Ministries is a priority for the Conference of European Provincials. The issue of Child Protection and Safeguarding are two areas of this priority we are promoting in all our works. Tackling them can be a starting point and an invitation for renewal of the Church in many areas such as human formation and pastoral outreach - an invitation that the Church and the Society should not miss. Safeguarding in many parts of the world includes also fighting the enlistment of child soldiers, reaching out to street children, action against trafficking and other issues. There is conversion needed in many societies in all these areas.

Every culture is different and has its complexities; so universal norms sometimes don’t work. Yet the invitation for renewal is there and must be taken up in every culture.

Our goal is not only to develop and implement protocols for responding to these injustices but to look at how we might actually have a pro-active culture in the Society of Jesus for the protection of children and other vulnerable members of our societies.

The issues raised are not easy ones, but tackling them will invite us to renew at a deep level our own individual lives, our community lives and our apostolic lives.

We need to avoid several things in respect to this topic like: denial, thinking of ourselves as the victims, blaming others, avoiding the matter at hand or considering it too complicated an issue to even act. Conversely, we encourage getting expert advice, education for the people we lead in our provinces, a culture of discussion, new ideas to build a culture of safeguarding, to seek personal support and, most importantly, to spend time with God since through Him we will find the right thing to do.

Building a culture of Safeguarding in our Provinces and Regions. Saint Ignatius calls consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity. These words came to mind when heading from the quiet woods of Dobogokö towards Budapest airport what had happened at the Conference of Safeguarding that took place from the 26th to the 29th of March. Other ideas came into mind during that long journey. First of all, the topic of Child Protection and Safeguarding are not easy ones. The Church has made mistakes in this area and we need to acknowledge this and be humble and honest about it. A question that was raised during several parts of the conference was: “How do we break that silence that characterises this topic”. We need to address it in topic in an open way, with open hearts and with enough sensibility to understand the suffering of the innocent affected by the wrongdoing of a few. Secondly, the conference was not void of unexpected events. We were left without light during more than a day. The darkness, even if it made difficult the correct development of the conference, seemed very appropriate for the topic we were discussing. Those affected by cases of sexual abuse often find themselves surrounded by an ever increasing darkness that leaves no space for hope and recovery. Pope Francis says “these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair”. But even in the depth of darkness and despair, the transforming light of God is able to shine. Thirdly, many of the sessions came into mind. The participants had the chance to hear several experts on the topic, from real cases and how to deal with them to a communications workshop on how to communicate inside the provinces and regions and how to communicate outwards a message of hope, faith and liberation. The conference was fortunate to have the presence of several participants from other Jesuit Conferences. “Being here with all of you has been a gift for me” said Father Lucianus Suharjanto SJ (Indonesian Province) during the closing mass, “I take many ideas and knowledge back to my Conference and I am grateful to all of you for that.” Finally, the participants worked in groups to discuss how Jesuits, during their formation, could be taught about this real issue and big concern in the Church. Many good ideas were raised. One participant said “we need not only to discuss protocols and guidelines, we need to understand what it means to lead a healthy live and transmit it to our your brothers in formation, then these unmentionable acts will not happen” Needless to say, after these three days, a sense of consolation came from breaking a silence sometimes so present in our provinces and regions.
And the small brave steps we can take towards the healing of hearts. Broken hearts and spirits are difficult to heal. There are no easy remedies and comfortable solutions. What can we do then? How can we help those most vulnerable move forward with their lives and regain some of that, often lost, love for creation? The Jesuits in the Netherlands offer us a simple symbolic gesture to walk towards the healing of broken hearts. On Sunday, January 29th, in the Petrus Canisius church (Nijmegen, Netherlands) a monument was unveiled for the victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. In recent years several other churches in Flanders (Bruges, Antwerp) and The Netherlands (Maastricht, Hengelo) had lead the way.  It all started with a promise, a promise made by Provincial superior Fr. Johan Verschueren SJ to the victims of the Canisius College. With all of them there had been mediation processes and some form of compensation but Fr. Verschueren felt that a symbolic gesture was needed to finalize the mutual understanding that had grown with time. The monument in Nijmegen is a glass fussion window by Hans Janssen, a local artist. The key word the Jesuits gave him in commissioning this work of art was 'brokenness'. The victims chose the material and the design for the work of art. Furthermore, the place where to put the piece of art was decided by them and they felt that the Canisius church, localized in the city centre of Nijmegen, would be ideal. The large number of people visiting this church to pray, light candles or buy rosaries etc., guaranteed a lasting visibility and awareness of the painful history. Even the precise spot of the monument is symbolic: it is hung in a hall, passageway between outside en inside space. This is no coincidence, since for many victims it is quite hard to enter a church building. In this way it will be accessible for everyone. “The hall was full” said Fr. Theo van Drunen SJ, one of the main organisers behind this event, “the atmosphere was very intense and the attendants were very impressed”.  “We hope that this encourages other initiatives in the Church, initiatives that heal hearts and spirits,” added Father Dardis. “This has been a small step, but with a deep meaning”   Informative note: The Superiors of the Society of Jesus in Europe and the Near East are organising a conference on the issue of Safeguarding from the 26th to the 29th of March in Hungary this year. All the provincials and participants taking part in this conference are looking forward to this event given the importance of this topic in their provinces. For more information contact projectplanning@jesuits.eu