After many years as a Building Inspector with the City of Calgary, most of my peers and I resented having to comply with new safety procedures. They got in the way of efficiency and, after all, we were experienced at working safely. For example, it seemed silly to refuse a house framing inspection simply because there was only a flimsy plank (or no plank) up to the door. So what if it had a little ice on it? What we didn’t foresee was that the procedure designed to protect employees from injury, and the corporation from liability, also changed the entire construction industry in Calgary. Now you will see proper wide ramps with handrails up to houses under construction, making it safer for everyone needing access, including the contractor’s own employees and sub trades. After several years we had created a ‘new normal’, from which no one would even think of going back.
Pope Benedict XVI and the New Safe Environment Culture
It may never be properly reported how much Pope Benedict did to bring about a ‘new normal’ culture of safe caring for children. New procedures in dioceses around the world have been demanded by the Holy Father (emeritus). To victims of abuse he has repeated publicly: "It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel." To those who have offended, he urged: "examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow."
In his six day visit to the United States, the Pope was hounded relentlessly by media. Surveys showed afterwards that his honest and non evasive answers about sexual abuse actually made a significant positive impact on the perception of the Church by Americans. Even in that short time, there was a sense of the possibility of restoring confidence in Christ’s mission through the Church. A culture which was damaged could be healed and transformed.
John Allen, of CNN, who has travelled extensively with our last two popes and was visible again during the recent papal election, tells the story of Pope Benedict’s meeting with a group of sexual abuse victims. It was to be entirely private and secret so as not to appear a publicity stunt. We only know about it because one of the victims was so moved by the pope’s compassion, he told the story. Sitting close to Pope Benedict, one by one they explained to him how they had been affected by the abuse. He listened intently, after which he got up, knelt in front of them and begged their forgiveness. Then they prayed together.
The Kingdom of Love
It hurts to know that those who have been abused seldom get over it. But not knowing it keeps us from realizing how important it is to develop a culture of protection and safety. Sexual abuse is a societal scourge. Most studies demonstrate that abuse figures for offenders are consistent across all of society and most organizations and families. No list of procedures can adequately cover every single type of instance. Nor can we expect every volunteer to remember every rule, although the two adult rule- always have at least two screened adults- is critical to protecting children and volunteers/employees alike. This is why we must be vigilant in everything we do so that there are no more victims, not just in the Church but everywhere in society.
Police Information Checks (PICs) and reference checks for volunteers are annoying. They are also powerful tools in the new culture of safety. First, they give a clear signal that we are not open for business to potential predators. Secondly, they help remind us to think and act in ways which will keep our children safer. Thirdly, this and other procedures, also send the all important message to the world that we can be trusted to bring the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, to a world desperate for the Kingdom of Love.
When we stay within speed limits on the roads, we drive confidently, knowing that we are acting safely. Once the new normal procedures for safe environments are in place, we can be confident that we are always acting safely. When our culture includes awareness of boundary violations, participating in ministry becomes more enriching because we have the comfort of knowing we are acting safely.
In the Called To Protect video we are showing to most of our volunteers, a bishop points out that Jesus called the children to him and that we cannot fulfil our mandate to be a sign of love without appropriate affection for those to whom we minister. We call our Calgary program “Strengthening Our Parish Communities”. It expresses our desire to prevent abuse of the vulnerable at the same time as we raise the value of each volunteer as a precious part of the plan to build God’s kingdom of love. To see more on this program, click here.
This article appeared on the April 2013 issue of the Carillon.