An international symposium addressing clerical sex abuse concluded on Feb. 9 with the announcement of a new internet-based Center for Child Protection.
“If the Church is now once again taking on its task of being a sign and sacrament of God's love, and putting the protection and promotion of the life of children at the very center of its interests then such actions and work are a decisive contribution towards evangelization,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich at the launch press conference in Rome.
The global “e-learning center” provides online training for professionals involved in responding to the sexual abuse of minors.
It's being coordinated by the Ulm University in Germany, the Archdiocese of Munich and Rome’s Gregorian University, hosts of the “Towards Healing and Renewal” conference that took place Feb. 6-9.
The effort has an initial budget of $1.6 million dollars to cover its first three years from 2012 to 2014. The training package is delivered in modules, takes a total of 30 hours to complete and is available in four languages – English, Spanish, Italian and German.
“As a clinician who has some experience in medical education, I know that these e-learning tools are very strong tools if you really want to spread out knowledge,” Professor Jörg Fegert of Ulm University’s Department for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy told CNA.
He explained how the German society felt stung into action following a high profile clerical abuse scandal in 2010. Cardinal Marx today recalled it as “the worst and most bitter year” of his life.
In the following months the federal government in Germany set up a dedicated telephone call centre staffed by psycho-therapists to survey the extent of sexual abuse across the country.
“People were free to phone and tell their story,” explained Professor Fegert, “and they were asked to give advice to the government what we should do in Germany to make a better environment for children.”
The findings suggested that 57 percent of abuse took place within families and 27 percent in institutional settings such as churches, schools or sports clubs. Of those institutions, 38 percent were Catholic, 12 percent Protestant and 49 percent secular.
Those behind the new “Center for Child Protection” hope it can be used way beyond the confines of the Catholic Church.
“The internet gives us the possibility to reach people all over the world,” said Professor Fegert. He hopes to provide both “top down” advice online while enabling a “bottom up” development in different countries “where people can adapt the programs to their own cultural environments.”
Today’s announcement concluded a four-day symposium that has brought together over 140 bishops’ conferences and religious orders in Rome to discuss the issue of clerical abuse. All such Catholic groups have until May 2012 to submit guidelines for dealing with allegations and instances of abuse to the Vatican for approval. Many, however, already have such guidelines in place.
“Without doubt, the debate over the sexual abuse of children and adolescents has greatly damaged the Church,” concluded Cardinal Marx.
“But if we try to understand these events also on a spiritual level, then they can be a major impetus towards conversion and renewal, and so towards rebuilding credibility, step by step.”
The Center for Child Protection can be found at www.elearning-childprotection.com.