(Source: CD/Vatican News)

The International Safeguarding Conference is hosting a series of webinars, entitled “A Safer Church”, which will focus on sharing safeguarding best practices, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The series began May 29 with a web seminar on the topic “Safeguarding during Covid-19: A Victim’s Perspective”.

Keeping safeguarding as a priority

One of the goals of the “Safer Church” webinars is to encourage the Church and other faith-based organisations to keep safeguarding children and vulnerable adults as a priority.

“I think this is a concern that pertains to the whole society”, said Father Hans Zollner, SJ, the President of the Centre for Child Protection (CCP) at the Pontifical Gregorian University, who serves as a member of the ICS Steering Committee.

“Civil society has also a huge question mark behind the continuation of safeguarding efforts, and deployment of resources and personnel to this vital area of society’s life”. He added, “The same is true also for the Church”.

Abuse on the rise during pandemic

In an interview with Vatican News, Fr Zollner identified a number of issues that have arisen precisely in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. He notes that victims often find themselves in situations of restraint that recall the situations of abuse that they have faced.

He also pointed to a rise in domestic abuse, including physical violence as well as sexual and psychological abuse. In situations of lockdown, victims can find it difficult or impossible to seek help.

Online abuse, whether in the form of “grooming” victims or the sexual exploitation of minors, is also a growing concern.

Vital for the health of society

As society prepares to move forward in the wake of the coronavirus emergency, it is important to remember that safeguarding against abuse “is a vital aspect of the health of society”, said Fr Zollner.

Efforts to fight the coronavirus are necessary, he continues, but society must realise “there is also another virus, and this virus is sexual violence and physical violence and psychological violence against those who are very much at risk”.

Assisting safeguarding professionals

These are some of the concerns that safeguarding professionals are addressing in light of the unprecedented situation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Father Zollner also identified the formation of safeguarding personnel and the effects of the lockdown on formation as topics that will be considered in upcoming seminars.

“We are overwhelmed with the interest that this webinar has created, and we are very happy that so many people will participate”, Father Zollner said. “And we certainly pledge to continue our input with the help of many of our friends and collaborators”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.