On the fifth morning of the General Chapter, Brother Caoimhin O’Laoide and Brother Isauro Covili Linfati of the Order’s Commission for Safeguarding of Minors highlighted the reality and seriousness of the phenomenon of sexual abuse of young persons and vulnerable adults by clerics and religious, and the great importance for our Order and the Church to promote a culture of care and safeguarding vulnerable persons.
Brother Antonio Scabio, a professional psychotherapist and Definitor General, spoke about the experience of victims of such tragic violence and serious trauma, who must always be at the centre of our response to sexual abuse, and about the required response of compassion and responsibility towards them, their families, and the communities that have been hurt. The Commission stated that we, as Franciscan Friars, “are called to have respect for the dignity and worth of every human being (and that we must) never exploit or misuse the power that we may have as a member of a religious order or as an ordained minister of the Church.”
Brother Aidan McGrath spoke about the recommendations of the Commission, that include the formulation of draft Statutes to be inserted into the General Statutes of the Order, as well as the development of a clear Code of Ministerial Conduct, with guidelines and procedures that will apply to all friars and Entities of the Order.
As emphasised by the Commission, our Order has an obligation not to ‘turn a blind eye’ or to be silent, and there is a serious need to develop awareness, education, and open dialogue at local friary and parish levels, in Initial and Ongoing Formation of friars, and for our staff, volunteers, and collaborators. Entity leaders are asked to train friars and to collaborate with other religious and lay professionals in a pro-active ministry of care and safeguarding of the people in our world who suffer from abuse. One recommended formation resource for friars who are to be assigned to this ministry is the basic training and specialised formation programme offered by the Pontifical Gregorianum University at https://childprotection.unigre.it/
The Capitulars met in language groups to discuss how Entities can ensure greater consistency in their response to the phenomenon of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, and in their approach to the proper handling of all matters related to complaints of this nature.
In the afternoon, Brother Cesare Vaiani and Brother Sinisa Balajic presented the Report of the General Secretariat for Formation and Studies (GSFS). They outlined the specific GSFS initiatives over the past six years, and spoke of the existing formation and educational institutions of the Order, such as the Pontifical Antonianum University (PUA) and research centres in Rome, USA, Cairo, and Hong Kong. They emphasized several new and innovative programmes introduced over the past six years, such as the Licentiate Course in Integral Ecology offered by PUA since 2020.
Reflections and proposals of the GSFS included the need for accompaniment of both numerically increasing and numerically decreasing Entities, the formation of Guardians, the formation to a Franciscan identity for all friars, networking among study centres, and the importance of the digital world.
These reflections and proposals, together with the formation realities and needs in the different Entities, were discussed by Capitulars in the different language groups.