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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. 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 in the Church. During the 2021-2022 academic year, the Global Culture of Safeguarding project convened a series of events to consider how a culture of safeguarding could lift up the voices of the survivors of sexual abuse, bring in female as well as male perspectives, and—in the case of religious institutions—incorporate theological and ethical reflection on the abuse of power and the problem of evil.

The Catholic Church is not the only public institution involved in sex abuse 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 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.”

Against this backdrop the Global Culture of Safeguarding project developed its programming around a series of related questions: 

  1. What constitutes 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?
  2. How can women's perspectives and experiences help to address and enhance the substance of the idea of a culture of safeguarding?
  3. What role has religious belief and moral doctrines played in systems of abuse and neglect? How might different beliefs and new understandings of sexual morality assist in the creation of a transformed culture within the Church, the Society of Jesus, and other faith traditions?
  4. 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 in this important field.

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Project Leader

Gerard J. McGlone headshot

Gerard J. McGlone

Senior Research Fellow

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