After two hundred years the education of children and disadvantaged youths remains a primary commitment. On the occasion of the bicentenary of the founding of the Order central Asia is once again at the heart of the commitment of the Marist Brothers. In fact, on January 2 the General Superior, Brother Emili Turú Rofes, will attend the opening of a school for the sons and daughters of tea plantation workers: “New slaves, new beginning”, he said with his typical optimism. On the occasion of the celebrations of the Institute founded by Marcellino Champagnat, Turú addressed all 3.100 brothers in 81 Countries and the thousands of people linked to the Marist ideal to express gratitude, ask forgiveness and pledge continual commitment.
In the message you asked forgiveness for “all the times we were the object of scandal.” Why? Throughout our history we had many reasons to give thanks and to acknowledge our sin. Situations of abuse have taken place in some of our institutions, meant to be safe places for all children and youths, which left deep scars in them. In many cases these scars will remain open wounds for their entire lives. Our Institute was created to help children and young people become good Christians and good citizens, as wanted by our founder. And fortunately this mission was accomplished for the majority of those who attended our Marist Education centres. The abuses that have taken place caused deep suffering among us. They are in stark contradiction with our life and our mission.
How could all of this have happened?
In the past it was considered a moral problem. But today we know that it’s also a psychiatric disorder and a criminal offence in most Countries. When it was believed to be a moral problem the offenders were given counsel and guidance for repentance, they were encouraged to devote more time to prayer, and they were transferred to opportune locations. But now
we know that that “geographic treatment” failed, for the first person that the offender met in his new destination was himself, facing the same problem.
What measures did the Institute adopt to address these situations?
Clear institutional policies were adopted, designed to help us prevent situations of abuse and to
react promptly before any suspicion or report of abuse, in compliance with the national legislation of the interested Country and the laws of the Church.
In the past six years we held a set of international seminars on the protection of minors, attended by the leaders of all Marist provinces. This kind of formation continued in the provinces, adapted to the various local realities. We are presently networking with the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to offer all Marist Institutes a formation programme on the protection of minors and the defence of their rights. Naturally, we ascribe primary importance to the careful selection of candidates to Marist brotherhood and their ensuing accompaniment.
Thus you adopted rigorous protocols?
Each Marist province has adopted a set of measures for the protection of minors centred on what for us is a cardinal principle, namely, the respect and the protection of children and youths. The wellbeing of children and the support to the victims come before everything else, along with the protection of the Institute and of the person that committed the abuse.
Transparency equally holds primary importance, both in terms of informing the competent bodies and the civil authorities. However, we always try to combine justice with mercy. Justice without mercy turns into revenge, while mercy without compliance to justice and truth is a deceit.
Are special forms of accompaniment of the victims envisaged, in case the latter request them?
Yes; also for those civil cases under the Statute of Limitations we always offer the victims the possibility of accessing appropriate treatment with various forms of counsel and accompaniment: psychological, psychiatric, spiritual, etc.
It is often said that cases of paedophilia occur more frequently inside the Church. But official figures show a different picture…
Unfortunately there are more cases of abuse than most people imagine. Figures released by “One in Four”, the organization set up in Ireland and in Great Britain, show
that one in four adults has been the victim of some form of sexual abuse before turning 18.
It was for this reason that we launched a campaign in our Institutes to help families and minors protect themselves by identifying and reporting possible signs of abuses. Approximately 30% of all sexual abuses were perpetrated by family members, while 60% of abuses occurred in the family environment. This fact further complicates the situation: when the sexual offenders are members of the family it’s harder to denounce them. In fact, most cases of sexual abuse occur within the family or in the family environment. This in no way diminishes the gravity of the sexual abuses committed by priests and religious, protected only by the image of persons “consecrated to God” who in reality cause not only psychological and mental damage but also spiritual damage, thereby giving a completely distorted image of God.