ROME – On Friday the Pontifical Gregorian University’s newly-minted Institute of Anthropology, which replaces its famed Center for Child Protection, was formally inaugurated amid praise from abuse survivors and experts alike.
Unveiled earlier this year, the institute’s formal name is the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care.
Overseen by German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, former director of the Centre for Child Protection (CCP) and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), the institute will take over the CCP’s work in conducting research and formation in the field of child protection, but it will do so with the heft of an entire degree-offering faculty at the Gregorian university, with its own academic staff.
Attendees of the Oct. 14 inauguration ceremony voiced hope that the new institute will expand and enhance safeguarding efforts for children and vulnerable people in the Church and beyond.
Speaking in a pre-recorded video message, Chilean clerical abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, also a member of the PCPM, commended Zollner and all those who worked to make the new institute a reality.
“As a victim-survivor, it’s important to have people who have a strong formation in human dignity and who know how to treat survivors, who understand survivors, and who work on safeguarding,” he said.
Cruz said he can already see the fruits of what people who have passed through the CCP are now doing.
“Personally, as a Catholic, I am grateful for so many people that have been with me in my journey, especially the Holy Father, who really made me feel like Lazarus,” he said. “I am a resurrected man after having had my life destroyed, but yet I am now someone who tries to solve this issue or help solve this issue from within the Church.”
Each abuse survivor is different, meaning they will react to their trauma in different ways, Cruz said, which is why “it is so important to have initiatives like this institute that will form so many people who will go around the world trying not only to solve the problem, but creating new, safe places where people can be and hopefully eliminate the scourge of abuse and the culture of coverup.”
He voiced thanks to everyone who has been part of the CCP and the creation of the new institute, and he thanked the Gregorian University specifically “for believing in this and for taking the initiative and for giving life to something that shows the world how this can be done.”
“Hopefully there will be many, many apostles of human dignity and care around the world that have been formed and have passed through your institute,” he said.
Friday’s lineup of speakers also included Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Venezuelan Father General Arturo Sosa Abascal, Superior General of the Society of Jesus; Professor Ernesto Caffo, President of Telefono Azzurro; and Professor Jörg Fegert of Ulm University.
The discussion was moderated by Professor and Baroness Sheila Hollins, an expert in child protection and a founding member of the PCPM.
While most speakers were enthusiastic about the potential of the institute and its work, Fegert said he has been asked some critical questions ever since the creation of the new institute was announced
In his remarks, Fegert said that in Germany, he has been asked that with an institute of anthropology, “will child protection and safeguarding now be hidden behind general humanity? If child protection disappears from the title, does this mean a different primary basis?”
In comments to Crux, Zollner insisted that safeguarding will still be a top priority, but the work is simply expanding.
“We are now at another level of academic functioning insofar as we can develop our own faculty, our teaching faculty, and we can award degrees, which we couldn’t do before as a center,” he said.
“Of course, we have now expanded our scope. We are not only considering minors of age, but also vulnerable persons. It is broader,” Zollner said, noting that the institute “will keep the priority of children, but we will also look into other areas of abuse. Not only sexual abuse, but also in other age groups.”
In his remarks during the inauguration, Zollner said the creation of the institute is “yet another milestone” that his team has reached when they first set out to create educational programs on safeguarding nearly 10 years ago.
In the academic world, “it’s very difficult to move from project-phase to setting up a sustainable structure,” he said, adding, “today we can say with elation that our project didn’t end with just one online safeguarding program,” but has grown into an entity capable of offering various degrees and doctorates on the topic.
Calling the institute “the next step on this journey of trying to make the world a safer place through our academic and educational endeavors,” Zollner said pointed to three words in the institute’s name which he said are guiding principles for their work.
Anthropology, he said, “is a field that attempts to understand what it is that makes us human. It seems as though many in today’s world have forgotten what it means to be human, in our belonging, in our suffering, in our dependency on one another.”
“With the help of psychologists, theologians, and lawyers, philosophers, social and pedagogical scientists and other academic professionals, we will be able to deepen in our understanding of how these crippling wounds came about.”
Through the institute, experts and students, he said, will also be able to explore “how we can work together to root out abuse in its many forms, and what we need to do so that the church and other institutions don’t deny the reality of this scourge and change their institutional and systemic makeup and action.”
Pointing to the concept of dignity, Zollner said this aspect of the new institute involves men and women of every age and status.
“It happens far too often that we disregard this reality that we are all born with this inherent dignity, given to each and every human by the hands of God,” he said, voicing hope that the institute would “serve us as a reminder that we all deserve to be treated with dignity, and that our work involves this principle.”
On the topic of care, Zollner said this goes for everyone, but the institute’s priorities are “children and the most vulnerable and marginalized of our societies.”
“We can no longer accept excuses for not listening to victims, for ignoring their suffering, and we need to work for the care of children and vulnerable adults alike. That is the heart of our work,” he said.
Zollner closed his remarks insisting that the institute “belongs to a greater movement of change in the world that goes beyond simply acknowledging what has gone on, oftentimes right underneath our noses.”
“While we will never be able to eradicate completely abuse from this world, we can certainly take concrete steps to preventing abuse, to intervening in abusive situations, and to promote the conversation on how the Church, bishops, laity, all of us, can approach this urgent issue,” he said.
He asked attendees and all involved in the institute’s work “for your watchful eye, where there is injustice, and for your support to be unwavering as we continue to address these deep-seeded problems.”
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