From the time of our Founder, Cardinal Lavigerie guidelines have existed in different forms about the way in which we should behave with and towards the people we serve. In the wake of clerical sexual abuse and the call for greater integrity in ministry, our Society felt it necessary to formulate and publish how we should keep boundaries, especially in ministry to children and vulnerable adults. Thus in 2008, the Society of Missionaries of Africa put in place Guidelines on Dealing with Sexual Abuse of Children on how to proceed in the case of the abuse of children. In the Capitular Acts of 2010 it was affirmed that:

When faced with the reality of sexual and physical abuse, our sense of justice demands that our first concern should be for those who have been abused. We are committed to the protection of those at risk of abuse (n° 4, p. 34).

The 2008 Guidelines were revised into a Policy on Abuse of Children and Vulnerable Adults in 2012. This Policy was further revised in July 2014 following the advice of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Pope Francis, on different occasions, has reminded the entire Church that action against sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is to be taken seriously because it is a scandal and a counter-witness to the Gospel of Christ. Christ’s love reached out generously and freely to children and to vulnerable people, not for some personal interest but in order that they might have life to the full as children of God (Jn 10:10). That is what all, who minister in God’s name as missionary disciples, are called on to do. We should reach out of a love freely given to children and vulnerable adults at all times and in all places.

At the level of the Universal Church, a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is in place in the Vatican and more and more is being done to raise the awareness of clergy and their collaborators about the importance of ensuring that our places of ministry are safe for children and vulnerable adults.

In recent years, the Society of Missionaries of Africa has consistently expressed its commitment to creating safe environments in which everyone associated with our mission may thrive, especially children and vulnerable adults, and to dealing effectively with abuse. In Rome a special office of the Coordinator for Integrity in Ministry has been created. Each Province is supposed to have a Safeguarding Delegate who is appointed by the Provincial. His mandate is about making sure that the guidelines of the Society for the protection of children and vulnerable adults are respected and followed. The purpose of the appointment is to ensure that the Provincial and the Delegate Superiors remain neutral throughout the subsequent stages, in order to be free to take the necessary decisions. The Provincial also ensures the objectivity of investigations by the Safeguarding Delegate. The Safeguarding Delegate is a person who has been formed for that ministry through different sessions and seminars which are being organized by the Society regularly. His role is also to elaborate a Policy on child abuse for the Province which should be in concordance with the Guidelines of the Society. This policy should take the form of a Code of Conduct which lays out the standard of behaviour expected and the boundaries that must be kept. The Code includes all issues relating to creating a safe environment for ourselves and for those to whom we are sent.

This Policy for the Province and its Sectors should be known by all members, employees and candidates of the Society.

It should address questions such as the following:

  1. In what circumstances are missionaries, as individuals, required by law to report safeguarding concerns?
  2. What are the legal definitions of crimes and delicts against minors in the country (fondling, rape, sharing of sexual abuse images or films, etc.)?
  3. When an individual missionary reports abuse, is there a correct format to be followed?
  4. In what circumstances does the law require the Society to report a safeguarding concern? What form is required and to whom is it reported (Church Advisory Board, police, social services)?
  5. To what extent does the law allow the Church to have supportive contacts with an abuse victim? Does this change during juridical investigations?

The Safeguarding Delegate collaborates with the Provincial as well as with other similar structures on the level of the local Church or the State.

Author: Jacek Wroblewski, M.Afr.