Responding to Institutional Abuse

Certain allegations have emerged about abuse within Mission De Vie which is under the auspice of the Maronite Church in Lebanon. We are in no position to know the truth of any of those allegations and can’t comment on them.  However, experiences from around the world have demonstrated how sinister abuse in institutions can be.  In many parts of the world the Catholic Church is still dealing with the devastation amongst many of the religious orders and institutions in which these crimes have been committed. There have been a number of important lessons that have been learnt from situations in other countries which have uncovered institutional abuse against children and others forms of abuse around the world that we think are useful to be reminded about now.

  1. As a Church we must demand the highest standards of ourselves, especially when it comes to child protection. We must take complaints seriously and ensure the highest regulations of ourselves. We must also submit to the independent regulations which have been put in place for the protection of children in the civil societies we live in. Abuse does happen in the Church and it is unacceptable
  2. Voices calling out abuse must be supported, and we must demand they be heard. Natural justice, investigation and transparency are essential to uncovering the truth. Political interference in the judicial process and trial by media must be avoided. The media in particular must be careful in reporting witness testimony before it has been given in court and before investigations are concluded so as not to taint evidence or cause the victim further pain. We must remember that everyone deserves the right to due process and natural justice, including those accused. That is fundamental to uncovering the truth and protecting victims, and potential victims. Due process also requires that the judiciary is free from political and other influences and corruption. We accept that things become difficult when the allegations involve people of high profile and when the media and others are ready to decide cases even before the law has. Legislators must refrain from interfering with any process before investigations are concluded.
  1. What matters is the truth and it matters beyond reputations, including the reputation of the Church. Investigations of institutionalised abuse have revealed that so often the abuse continued because victims, especially children were not heard, because those that knew about the abuse remained silent, because those who reported it were not believed or because complaints were never investigated. Even more often, it was because people in power were more concerned about their own reputation and the reputation of the institution or the Church, than concerned with doing what was right and protecting children or victims.
  1. Abuse, especially at the hands of those in positions in power is nothing new and is not confined to the walls of the Church. Institutions are susceptible to it for all sorts of reasons which we are now learning about. It is made even worse in those developing countries that lack regulations or where there is lack of enforcement or where institutions are closely aligned to the political or judicial system and can influence it. It is also shocking, for some beyond belief and it challenges everything they have ever trusted. For the faithful, it is a huge betrayal and it takes time to process. Education is key.
  1. We must avoid defensiveness and the rhetoric of defensiveness. To the amazement of many, sometimes even ourselves, we stay in our Church, even when we are surrounded by the stench that is overwhelming us. We believe the Church and our spiritual lives transcend beyond the stench and beyond the actions of individuals. The collateral damage is the people who leave the Church because of the deep sense of disgust and betrayal they feel and we don’t judge them for that. But for those of us that remain in the Church, this is no time to remain silent. Avoid seeing things as an attack or a persecution of the Church. Rather anything that reveals the truth in fairness and in process must be welcomed. We must demand it before anyone, because that is what Christ demands of us – to protect those who cannot protect themselves and be a voice for those who are not heard and are hurt or marginalised.
  1. Today we pray for all those who have experienced sexual abuse, especially by those in positions of power in our own Church. We pray for all those who have to endure the consequences of it in fear and we pray, in this season of the Birth of Our Lord, we pray that the infant babe will protect all children.

Amen


Warning:

We understand that some readers may themselves have experienced sexual assault.
Be careful about disclosing your experience on social media. Others may not understand the issue causing you further distress. If this article causes you distress seek help from a rape or abuse service provider in your area.

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