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Towards a Global Culture of Safeguarding

Leader: Gerard J. McGlone

The clerical sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church is a global phenomenon. Decades-long patterns of abuse of children and vulnerable adults have caused enormous pain, harm, and suffering around the world. The Church is not the only public institution involved in such crimes; other religious and secular institutions are also implicated. But it has been and is the more visible.

Over the past several years, leaders of the global Catholic Church have given significant impetus to safeguarding, protection, and prevention efforts. Pope Francis has described abuse as “a universal problem, tragically present almost everywhere, and affecting everyone.” And the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., has encouraged Jesuits to create a culture of safeguarding, including “the adoption of clear policies for the prevention of abuse, the ongoing formation of those who are committed to mission, and serious efforts to identify the social origins of abuse.”

There is wide agreement that strict policies of zero-tolerance, legal compliance, and public accountability are necessary for the creation of a resilient culture of safeguarding. However, to prove effective and enduring, such a culture must also lift up the voices of the survivors of sexual abuse, bring in female as well as marginalized perspectives, and—in the case of religious institutions—incorporate theological and ethical reflection on the abuse of power and the problem of evil.

Considering these dimensions of the challenge, the Global Culture of Safeguarding program will continue to convene a series of events in around a series of related questions:

  1. Since 2002, there have been many efforts to address these issues. What has worked, and what still needs to be done?
  2. What are the dynamics of a “survivor’s perspective?” How can such a perspective help to heal the wounds of abuse and institutional betrayal in the Church and other institutions? What might a new “catechesis of survivors’ stories” look like?
  3. How can women’s and marginalized perspectives and experiences help to address and enhance the substance of the idea of a “culture of safeguarding?”
  4. What role has religious belief and moral doctrines played in systems of abuse and neglect? How might a new theological understanding of the child enhance this discussion?
  5. What are the implications of a culture of safeguarding for engagement across divides within the Church (Catholicism in its plurality), with other religious traditions, and with the wider world?

The proceedings of the events will inform a concept paper with recommendations for future research and action, which would find expression in a series of summary events.

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Project Leader

Gerard J. McGlone headshot

Gerard J. McGlone

Senior Research Fellow

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