If you were to ask people who don’t belong to the Catholic faith to name something that they readily associate with Catholicism, you would most certainly get a variety of responses. One which would undoubtedly pop up repeatedly would be “pro-life”. For many people, this is most readily linked with the issue of abortion, and understandably so. Yet the term “pro-life” encompasses so much more than this single issue, important as it is. Other issues that come under the pro-life umbrella include affordable health care, abolition of the death penalty, access to clean water, food and shelter, promotion of peace and justice and, newsworthy at present, access to the Covid vaccine to minimise the spread of this deadly virus.
To state that Safeguarding is a pro-life issue may seem to be stretching the definition, but this is not the case. Safeguarding seeks to protect the vulnerable, be they children or adults, from the devastating effects of abuse, which has sometimes, tragically, ended in suicide for some victims. Yet even without such a catastrophic outcome, abuse victims often speak of their life, or a significant part of it, being stolen from them, meaning that abuse is, by its very nature, “anti-life”.
We see in Jesus one who is ardently and perfectly pro-life, evidenced by his ministry. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) These words of Jesus were backed up by his actions. Apart from his obvious pro-life miracle of raising the dead (Luke 8:40-56, for example), the healings of Jesus were akin to raising the dead because they enabled the victims of various crippling diseases to re-enter society once more. Prior to this, their life was more of an existence, a living death.
Seen in the light of the Gospel, we can understand that Safeguarding is a pro-life issue, and just as with all the pro-life issues mentioned earlier, it is not the concern of just a few members of the Church to ensure that it happens. Every member of the faithful is called upon to be alert for signs of abuse, whatever their source, and in doing so protect the dignity of every person, something the Church has promoted since the earliest of times, modelled on the interaction of Jesus with every person he encountered.
It is easy to give ourselves a label to help us identify readily with a particular movement. In our case as Catholics, calling ourselves “pro-life” means committing ourselves in many ways to ensuring that human life is respected, including being alert for signs of abuse, an evil which has meant so many young and vulnerable people have been forced into a living death. Only if we are truly “in this together” can we ensure that this blight upon our Church never surfaces again and that we will truly reflect the pro-life movement in its totality as modelled for us by Jesus.
Fr Robert Riedling is Dean and Administrator of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
If you see something in your parish you think might be unsafe, or have concerns about, contact the Office of Safeguarding in the Diocese of Parramatta on (02) 8838 3419 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the matter is urgent call the police on 000.