"Protecting the Minors in our Schools. Preventing and responding to (sexualised) violence"

 JECSE and ZIP 
Hybrid Safeguarding Conference 

01-04 March 2022

Ludwigshafen, Germany

Jesuit schools are places where we want to provide high quality education in a safe and healthy environment. Only in this kind of setting can the children realise their full and holistic development. It is therefore our constant priority to promote and support a culture of protection and integrity within our school communities.

 

One of the activities undertaken jointly by the Jesuit European Committee for Primary and Secondary Eduaction (JECSE) and the Centre for Ignatian Pedagogy (ZIP) in this regard was the conference "Protecting the minors in our schools. Preventing and responding to (sexualised) violence". From March 1st till March 4th 2022 more than 130 representatives of our schools from 23 countries, gathered in Ludwigshafen and online, to explore and discuss this extremely important issue.

 

On the first day of the meeting the guests were welcomed by Ms Agnieszka Baran, director of the JECSE and Ms Ulrike Gentner, director of the ZIP at Ludwigshafen's Heinrich Pesch Haus. Introducing the theme of the meeting, the organisers invited everyone to pray for a minute in silence for the victims of the war in Ukraine, asking God for a speedy end of this armed conflict.

 We are all called to create a real culture of protection in our schools 
 

José Mesa SJ, Secretary for Education of the Society of Jesus in Rome, opening the conference stressed that it is an important step in the right direction, "because without a true culture of protection in our schools, Jesuit education cannot fulfil its promise - the promise of forming the whole person. This is not possible without a safe environment and a culture of respect. We must effectively protect young people and prevent abuse. That is why this conference is so important” he said - "so that words are followed by action". 

Franck Janin SJ, President of the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials and President of JECSE linked up online with conference participants from Brussels. In his opening speech, he pointed out that a lot was done in Jesuits schools in this topic in recent years, clear protocols and guidelines to protect young people were developed. He also stressed that “the goal is even more ambitious as we are invited to engage in building and promoting a culture of safeguarding, a culture of protection, a culture of integrity”. This, he said, is about changing the culture, about profound transformation of mentality, of habits, of the way we look at each other, speak to each other and how we respect each other. He called the conference a beginning in that direction, saying it was "a call to true conversion”, to which we are all called, especially at this time of Lent. 

To start deepening awareness around safeguarding and protection topic Conference participants heard three speeches from Brian Flannery, JECSE Deputy Director; Susana Pradera Head of Safe Environment for the Society of Jesus in Spain; and Klaus Mertes SJ, former Rector of Canisius Kollege in Berlin. Referring to examples of abuse in the history of their countries, they showed what lessons have been learnt from the past and still need to be learned. They stressed the importance of building a culture based on deep respect for the person, which stems from the core value of Jesuit education, “cura personalis”. They also pointed out that the abuse of power and all kinds of abuses are not problems that concern only the Church, but the whole of society. Therefore, the reform of all our institutions is an ongoing process, requiring continuous training of staff and empowerment of students. 

Going deeper into the subject

 

On the following day we were further guided in our reflections by Prof. Dr. Jörg M. Fegert, Medical Director of the Clinic for Child and Adolescent  Psychiatry/Psychotherapy at Ulm University Hospital,

 with his speech “Risks of asymmetric relationships”. Ms Julia von Weiler (Innocence in Danger e.V., Berlin) addressed the topic of sexual abuse and Dr. Peter Hundertmark (Episcopal Ordinariate Speyer, Spiritual Education Department) raised the important and unique topic of spiritual abuse.

 

On this special day of Ash Wednesday, we were accompanied and guided by prayer. We were invited to a morning moment of reflection by Ms Suzanne Pace, Ms Suzanne Mohnani, Ms Helena Sammut from St Aloysius College from Malta. In the afternoon we took part in the Eucharist which in the Cathedral of Speyer  was celebrated for us by Dr. Christoph Maria Kohl, Dean of Cathedral, Fr José Mesa SJ, Secretary for Education, Society of Jesus and Fr. Tobias Zimmermann SJ, Director Heinrich Pesch Haus.

 

 

Response to a report of abuse

 

On the third day of Conference we touched on one of the most difficult elements of the subject - the response to abuse in our own schools. To be well prepared for this delicate topic we had asked Ms Marion Bernard, Pastoral Assistant from Lycée Saint-Joseph Avignon (France), to lead us in prayer. Then two eminent experts guided us in our deliberations and joint discussion. The first lecture "Sexual abuse and my institution " was given by Mr Marek Spitczok von Brisinski. After him Father Klaus Mertes SJ delivered us a speech entitled „First conditions for responding – Justice and Prevention”. There was also time for personal reflection and sharing in language groups - both on site and online. The morning session concluded with a joint meditation led by Fr Hans Brandl SJ from the Kollegium Kalksburg in Austria.

The afternoon sessions gave us a good opportunity to meet practitioners and learn from them how to prepare and implement safeguarding procedures in our schools. As part of workshop sessions held both on-site and online, we improved our competences and exchanged good practices. It was a fruitful time of discussion, joint reflection and sharing. This unique workshops were conducted for us by: Ms Emmer Kerrigan, Ms Julia von Weiler, Mr Marek Spitczok von Brisinski, Mr Gerry Foley, Mr Damon McCaul, Fr Klaus Mertes SJ and Dr. Peter Hundertmark. 

This intensive and very fruitful day ended with the Examen of the day led by Fr Aldonas Gaudaitis SJ from the Kaunas Jesuit High School in the Lithuania. 

Promoting a Consistent Culture of Protection

 

We devoted the last day of our meeting to the issue of building a consistent culture of protection. Prevention is about creating in an institution an atmosphere of trust and about the correct use of power to actually be trustworthy by protecting those who are vulnerable.

As we were slowly preparing to leave on Friday, we stopped for a morning reflection in which we were led by Ms Susanne Hirt from the German College of St Blasien. Then Fr John K. Guiney SJ, Coordinator of Promotion of Consistent Culture of Protection(PCCP) from the Curia Generalizia presented us the recommendations for the Society of Jesus to promote a culture of care. Mr Enric Masllorens (General Headmaster of „Fundació Jesuïtes Educació“) and Mr Joaquim Molina (EDUCSI-Zone East Coordinator) from Spain introduced us to a project “HORIZON +: Transforming themselves to transform. Becoming „4C“ citizens for a better society” that provides an example of how to put these recommendations into practice.

At the end of the meeting, working again in small country groups, we summarised the four days of the meeting and planned the activities that we will undertake when we return to our schools. 

Before setting off Fr Tobias Zimmerman SJ together with Ulrike Gentner led us in the Examen of the day and gave us a blessing for the journey.

 

Conclusions 

 

The JECSE-ZIP Safeguarding Conference ‘’Protecting Minors in our Schools” gave us a possibility to learn more about the current state of research on the abuse of minors and the preventative measures being put in place in the various European provinces of the Society. We came away confirmed in the belief that we need to foster a culture of dialogue, transparency, integrity and protection in our schools; a culture based on a deep respect for human dignity and best expressed, in our Jesuit tradition, in the core value of ‘’cura personalis“. 

A variety of thematic workshops offered the opportunity to deepen the topic, to exchange experiences and to transfer practical experience. The participants used the protected space to discuss sensitive issues as well as challenges with peers and experts. In addition, the network members developed tools to better address and shape the topic of prevention in their school communities in the future. 

 

José Mesa SJ, Secretary for Education, Society of Jesus, Rome, concluded the conference: 

 

‘’This was an important step in taking the process forward. I appreciate the high commitment of the participants and the possibility to share best practices in this important area of our education. Without a culture of safeguarding our education of the whole person is not possible. Our renewed commitment to build this culture in our school must be a priority.“ 

 

 

JECSE –ZIP Safeguarding conference was a part of the wider program of support we offer to our schools. In the next step we plan to organize Webinars on Child Protection issues and prepare a practical publication on the subject. We would also like to create so-called “flying expert” teams – teams that will support and accompany schools in Safeguarding implementation and development.