“It takes a conversation of mutual regard in relative safety to really confront the depth of the evil of child sexual abuse,” – Teresa Pitt Green.
The Spirit Fire Survivors Fellowship is taking its ministry of healing global in an effort to promote the creation of safe spaces in the church for people who were abused as children by members of the church.
One of the means to achieving this is their broadcast series on ‘Abuse, Faith and Pastoral Care’ live every Sunday evening with an expert contributor engaging in a conversation with a survivor in a dialectic of learning.
Through the series, Spirit Fire Survivors offer a ‘comprehensive picture of abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church’ but from the unique perspective of victims/survivors and their families.
Through the series, the Spirit Fire fellowhip of Survivors – US based and founded by Teresa Pitt-Green – offers a ‘comprehensive picture of abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church’ but from the perspective of victims/survivors and their families.
In 2014, Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors [TutelaMinorum] tasking the panel of experts with working with people who have been abused to improve the Churches’ safeguarding ministry.
Six years on it remains the prime criteria for all TutelaMinorum projects; from reviewing penal procedures, to the studying confidentiality and transparency in light of human dignity, to establishing survivor panels in cultural contexts where the words ‘victim’ or ‘safeguarding’ are literally lost in translation because they have no equivalent in local language.
In recognition of the Commission’s international scope the Spirit Fire Fellowship founder Teresa Pitt-Green invited Cardinal Sean O’ Malley to open the series with her.
During their 40-minute conversation the Commission President spoke about his own personal journey of listening and learning in his many meetings with abuse victims, their families and faith communities.
Cardinal O’ Malley says it was an aspect of his pastoral ministry he felt ill-equipped for when first confronted with the reality of child sexual abuse by clergy in his diocese as a young bishop: “One of the first thing I did was to try and meet with as many victims and their families as possible, and that had a profound effect on me because I really didn’t have any special preparation to deal with any of the seriousness of these problems.”
“But listening to their stories, seeing their pain realising how some people’s lives had been destroyed by this, not only the survivors and victims’ themselves, but their families and communities I learned”.
Pitt-Green notes that “It takes a conversation of mutual regard in relative safety to really confront the depth of the evil of child sexual abuse.”
Cardinal O’ Malley says the Commission’s emphasis on survivor-led formation draws on his own experience: “It became apparent to me that so much of the neglect and the cover-up in part must have been due to the fact that people were unaware of just how evil and how much damage the sexual abuse of children can cause. And so right from the beginning I have been trying to encourage leadership in the Church to meet with survivors and to have that experience”.
“As part of the safeguarding formation program for the newly appointed bishops from all over the world run by both the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelisation of peoples, Cardinal O’ Malley always asks a survivor to accompany the formation team.
“Invariably” he says “the bishops come up to me afterwards and say this is the most important conference in our gathering and the most striking was the witness offered by the survivor who came with you to talk to us about safeguarding. So, we are trying to promote that among other leadership, so they can begin to understand how much damage has been done and how urgent it is to respond appropriately.”
Teresa Pitt Green also asked Cardinal O’ Malley to speak about the role of the Pontifical Commission:
“People had thought that we were going to be receiving cases and deciding, that’s not our job there are other offices in the Curia…instead we have been involved with survivors and survivor groups, we are trying to promote assessment of safeguarding, education and formation particularly of leadership trying to make sure that the priorities of the welfare of children and vulnerable adults and the principals of accountability, transparency and zero tolerance are part of the fabric of each of our local churches.”
In Part II of the series, Pitt-Green sits down with TutelamMinorum member and President of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University, Fr Hans Zollner.