Friday, March 03, 2017

World Day of Prayer for Survivors of Sexual Abuse - Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran someone close to us dies - a family member or a friend – we experience a grief that is often difficult to express. No two people experience it in exactly the same way, so nobody can really say: “I know exactly how you feel”. The one thing that often helps is that a bereavement is public to a greater or lesser extent. People gather around and we talk our way through it, even if it takes longer than we might expect.

A child who has been sexually abused is not always immediately aware of having lost anything. Sooner or later, however, sexual abuse results in an experience which is not unlike the grief which accompanies a bereavement. Abuse undermines self-confidence and the capacity to trust. The one who is innocent is often made to feel guilty. The harm done to the child is physical, emotional and often spiritual as well. For some, the loss of a sense of self-worth means that it can be very difficult to think of oneself as being really loved even by God. What makes the experience of abuse so much worse for many children is that they have no words to express what has happened to them. Many people carry this burden with them for years, for fear of what will happen if they speak about it. 

I know that in every Church community, in every housing estate, in every workplace and in every school there are survivors of sexual abuse, for whom the grief remains very real, even years after the abuse has ended. Today, in response to the invitation of Pope Francis, we pause for a few moments to pray for them and to renew our commitment to building a Church and a civil society in which every child can feel safe, loved and respected.

People who have experienced sexual abuse continue to struggle with the reality of what has been done to them and need a safe environment in which to tell their story. They are entitled to be heard with compassion and respect. The Catholic Church is committed to providing that opportunity through an independent confidential counselling service “Towards Healing” and, for those who want it, a spiritual support service “Towards Peace”. 

In recent days, it seems that false allegations of sexual abuse have been made against a number of innocent men, as a deliberate strategy to undermine their credibility. This, in itself, is a form of abuse and, in its own way, it is gravely sinful. Not only do false allegations cause incredible pain to an innocent man and his family, but they also cheapen the pain and the struggle for justice of those who genuinely have been abused.

Significant progress has been made over the past fifteen years in developing and implementing policies and procedures for safeguarding children in the Church. In each of our parishes, we have trained safeguarding representatives who give their time on a voluntary basis in order to ensure that best practice is followed. I am very grateful to them for all that they do. If we have learnt anything from the experience of recent years, however, it is that we cannot afford to be complacent. In the final analysis, however, we all have a part to play. 

In recent days the media has once again made us aware of the hurt that was caused to one very vulnerable child over many years and right into adulthood, through what appears to have been a series of institutional failures. There is evidence that the statutory bodies responsible for the care of children are not adequately resourced. We have a great deal of work to do in our society and the Church, precisely because of the painful failures of the past, is now in a position to show leadership in the area of safeguarding.

“Awareness” is one of the virtues associated with the Buddhist tradition and I think we have something to learn from them. We need to have our eyes and ears open to anything in our community which might suggest that a child, or indeed a vulnerable adult, is at risk of abuse.

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