On 12 September, the Catholic Church in Australia marks Safeguarding Sunday (formerly Child Protection Sunday) on the second Sunday of September — at the conclusion of National Child Protection Week.
Safeguarding Sunday concludes National Child Protection Week. This year’s theme is: Every child, in every community deserves a fair go. On this day, we recall the terrible suffering of people who were abused as children in our Church. We touch again our shame, and resolve, ‘Never again’.
This resolution is central to our Catholic Church. It flows from our mission, which comes from God. We are called to be a community that follows Jesus and attracts people to recognise God’s love. The Church is called to be a place of love, generosity, respect, forgiveness, prayer and hospitality – all the qualities found in Jesus’ life.
That is our Catholic ideal. The reality, of course, is much more mixed. In our relationships, we often fail in love and respect. We need to work on all the relationships that make up our church so that they reflect the values enshrined in our mission. The love and respect that Jesus shows in the Gospel stories must be shown in all Church decisions, meetings, protocols, guidelines and relationships. It must translate into welcome at the Church door, geniality in answering phones, promptness in responding to requests, and care to listen to complaints. The way in which we do things must reflect our mission.
Ensuring that all children get a fair go
Above all, Safeguarding Sunday invites us to ensure that the relationships within our Church express respect for children who are so precious in God’s sight. Our procedures must protect people from disrespect. Respect must be translated into policies, protocols and guidelines that spell out in detail how as Catholics we keep children safe and hold adults responsible. This is vital. Abuse and official tolerance of it could happen only because there were no safeguards against it.
This day also invites us to thank God and the people responsible for the enormous work that has been done to ensure that children are safe in Church settings. In most of our Catholic parishes and schools, we can say fairly confidently that children get a fair go. We need to keep working to ensure that they continue to do so.
Safeguarding Sunday reminds us, too, of our larger responsibility to people who, like children, have less power in our Church. In the relationships of priests with parishioners, spiritual guides with clients, managers with employees, and volunteers with those they help, people with less power must be protected. This respect gives flesh to Christ’s mission in day to day life.
Readings for Safeguarding Sunday, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
The readings for Safeguarding Sunday do not have anything specific to say about the policies, guidelines and practices involved in protecting children. They focus rather on the depth and the cost of following Jesus in his way of love and respect. They suggest also that we always need to look at protection from the perspective of persons who are vulnerable, not of the Church as an organisation.
First Reading: Isaiah 50:5-9
The First Reading from the Book of Isaiah is one of several prayers put into the mouth of God’s servant who has been cruelly treated for his faithfulness and yet keeps trusting that God is with him. The early Christians saw in these prayers the words of Jesus as he suffered a rigged trial, condemnation, torture and humiliating death. They emphasise the cost of following Jesus’ way of love. They remind us that respect for one another can demand much from us. They also remind us that the victims of disrespect suffer what Jesus did. We find him present in them.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:1-9
The psalm is the prayer of someone who has faced death and suffering and has been freed from danger. It is a prayer of relief and thanksgiving. The Psalm encourages us to enter into the experience of people who as children have been abused in the Church, and to pray that God deliver them from the trauma, depression and turmoil that they have suffered so that they can live fully.
Second Reading: James 2:14-18
The Letter of James, a plain blunt man, reminds us that the test of Christian faith does not lie in the words we use about it, the promises we make and the rules we compose but in how we put these words, promises and rules into practice in what we do. James gives us the example of our response to people in need who ask us for help. It is not enough to speak nicely to them. We are called to help them. This reading urges us always to look at our relationships from the perspective of the person in need. It also reminds us of the cost involved in our faith, and so of the depth to which following Jesus takes us.
Gospel: Mark: 9:27-35
The Gospel story builds on the prayer of God’s servant in the reading from Isaiah. Peter has come to believe that Jesus is the one whom God has promised and sent. He then assumes that Jesus’ path will be full of roses. When Jesus says that he will suffer and be killed, Peter can’t believe it. His faith is shallow. This story also reminds us of the depth of commitment to which faith and respect for one another will take us, and invites us to see Jesus’ face in those who like him have not been respected and kept safe in our Church.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.