WelCom May 2021
Pope Francis has expressed his hope that religions, together, can fight the profound evil of child abuse. Francis’ message was delivered at an online symposium by Michael Hoffman, a clergy child sexual abuse survivor and activist. Religious representatives from several world religions, including Catholic, participated in the symposium called Faith and Flourishing: Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse. The symposium was organised by the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University.
Participants agreed sexual abuse was an evil that could be overcome. Seventy-three speakers from different religious, cultural and professional backgrounds addressed the issue of sexual abuse that has touched nearly every major religious group in the world.
According to reports by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, one in four girls and one in 13 boys experience sexual abuse at some point during childhood. Most cases take place in the household at the hands of family members. The symposium also addressed this and the impact of paedophilia in many other sections of society – from schools and sports clubs, to scouts and religious institutions.
‘By listening to those who have been hurt so grievously, we begin to understand much better why it’s important for faith communities to step up and acknowledge the harm that has been done in their midst,’ said Hans Zollner SJ, the president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Gregorian University in Rome.
Religious communities need to come together and share expertise and experiences, he said. ‘Faith communities can in fact have a major impact on the greater community they serve.’
Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome, secretary-general and legal adviser to the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, said that religion is a ‘very powerful tool’ for combating child sexual abuse.
Abbess Dhammananda Bhikkuni of the Buddhist Sanghammakalyani temple in Thailand spoke of the importance of ‘pure listening’ when encountering sexual abuse victims. The abbess spoke of ‘listening without the I, listening without judgment’, inviting faith leaders to go ‘into the depth of the pain’ with victims and survivors.
She urged faith leaders not to be afraid to ‘show your tears’.
‘Only when you really feel the pain of what they are going through, only then, we as faith leaders can help them,’ she added, underlining how this is the only way to establish trust, a prerequisite of healing.
Sources: Religion News Service, CathNews