AMECEA Secretariat under the guidance of Pastoral Department Child Safeguarding desk held a two-day consultative meeting on November 19-21, 2019, for Bishops President of Conferences in AMECEA Region to building on what they discussed in February this year ahead of the Rome summit on Child Safeguarding.
According to AMECEA Secretary General Rev. Fr. Anthony Makunde, the Bishops had an opportunity to meet and brainstorm on issues to do with Child Safeguarding according to their local contexts, having been equipped with the necessary documents that were availed for the Summit.
“After the Rome summit, this is the time that the Bishops had the opportunity as presidents of Conferences in AMECEA Region to reflect together and build on what was discussed there, and the implementation of the instructions that came up,” Fr. Makunde explained.
He added that the meeting was also an opportunity for AMECEA Secretariat to share with the Bishops the recommendations gathered from the member conferences where the Secretariat has been conducting consultative meetings with different groups, more especially the clergy.
“We have had consultative meetings with the clergy in Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, and Malawi. In all these Conferences there were some recommendations which came up. We have put them together and in this forum, we shared with the Bishops President of conferences,” Fr. Makunde elaborated, adding that there is an intention to have a general action plan for the region which will be adopted by the Member Conferences according to their needs.
Speaking at the opening of the consultative meeting, Most Rev. Luke Thomas Msusa, the Vice Chairman of AMECEA and President of Malawi Episcopal Conference (ECM) expressed his delight at the opportunity to reflect on the Post Vatican Summit on Child Safeguarding.
He noted with appreciation the seriousness with which the AMECEA region has taken up the matter. “I wish to thank the AMECEA Secretariat for keeping the fire alive. Indeed, every child is a gift from God and deserves our caring and protective efforts to enable him or her to attain their fullest development. Children were and continue to be at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. Sacred Scriptures implore on us to cautiously and carefully let children come to Christ,” Archbishop Msusa said.
Archbishop Msusa who is also the local ordinary of Blantyre Archdiocese reiterated the fact that Pope Francis has spelled with great care and caution steps that the Universal Church must take to protect children but also to rid the Church of any accusation of any form of abuse of minors. He urged his brother bishops in the Region to be united in steering the Church towards a safe and child-friendly environment.
Progress on Child Safeguarding in AMECEA Conferences
AMECEA Online News Sought from the Bishops the progress their respective conferences have made with regards to child safeguarding. Below are some of the comments.
Rt. Rev. George Cosmas Lungu, President Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB):
For Zambia it is a process, we went to Rome with issues that we felt are affecting our evangelizing mission. Therefore, coming back from Rome we shared what we experienced, which is also part of our agenda here in this consultative meeting.
I think it will take a bit of time as we need much more time to create an awareness of the challenges that we have especially the seriousness of the situation. At the same time, we have to find the means and ways in which we may be able to address the issues that we have regarding child abuse.
Currently I feel that it is just about getting people to understand what we are trying to deal with; getting to understand the source of this problem especially considering the fact that child abuse by the clergy, as it has been talked about in the media, is an issue that originated elsewhere, not in the African context but the Holy Father wants the issue to be dealt with at the universal Church level. This is a good thing because the rest of us could learn from our friends in spite of the fact that probably it may not be the topmost item on the agenda when it comes to abuses in our African context.
None the less, in Zambia, what we are doing now is to go to the local clergy, the Religious as well as the laypeople and discuss some of these issues just to create awareness so that we will be able to bring people on board. We are trying to discuss this issue in a way that is going to help promote our mission of evangelization and it is a process.
Most Rev. Gervas Nyaisonga, President Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC)
I attended the Rome Summit in February and truly it was very enriching and educative. We had an opportunity to listen to some testimonies and all these helped us understand the reality of the issue.
In Tanzania we were already conscious about the issues of child abuse even before going to Rome for the summit thus we already have a national policy for the safeguarding of the minors. Currently, we have started promoting the development of child safeguarding policies at the diocese level through the Pastoral Department in collaboration with Justice and Peace Department because there are issues of Justice when it comes to child abuse.
So coming back from the Rome summit, each Bishop delegate to Rome Summit had the mandate to deliver that message to members of his Conference, the Bishops, who in turn took the message to their respective dioceses.
In order to promote awareness and more commitment to child safeguarding, we at TEC have had seminars, whereby Child abuse issues, as a red flag, is often mentioned as a precaution in our dealings with people of different ages and especially the minors.
Rt. Rev. Robert Muhiirwa, Vice President, Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC):
Child safeguarding has been taken care of in some Dioceses in Uganda long before the Rome Summit on Child Safeguarding. We at UEC already have our policy on Child Safeguarding at the national level. Actually, by 2014 we already had something in place which only needed to be updated in line with these new developments.
Last year I think in June, we already had a policy which was sent to Rome but we had not officially promulgated it because we wanted feedback from Rome. But now with the recent developments which include the Rome Summit in February, we want to see where we can have some areas of improvement, which we are actually working on now.
As a way of creating more awareness on the issue, the Executive Secretary of Lay Apostolate at Uganda Episcopal Conference Rev. Fr. Fred Singiire has been visiting different Dioceses to meet the Bishop, the pastoral coordinator, priests and lay individuals who are directly concerned.
As it is now, the idea is being spread throughout the country to bring in more awareness. For instance, he was in my diocese last month and met with me and the Pastoral coordinator, together with one other priest who has done some studies on Child Safeguarding. However, this is not enough. The idea needs to go down to the grassroots so that every Parish priest is made aware of the policy as well as all people working with minors in the parishes and Church institutions such as schools, hospitals, and youth movements.