Colombia bishops approve new safeguarding guidelines

ROME – During their general assembly, Colombia’s bishops approved a new set of guidelines for the protection of minors.

One of the lay experts behind the text, Ilva Hoyos, said it is a recognition by the bishops that they need a new perspective, “centered not in discipline but culture of care.”

“The adoption of the new guidelines is another step forward in the path of abuse prevention,” said Hoyos, the former Colombian attorney general for children, adolescents and family. “In the culture of care, everyone is responsible. In our condition as people of God, we must act charitably and in synodality.”

Hoyos is the head of the bishops’ working group for the protection of minors and coordinated the writing of the 22-page guidelines.

She told Crux that while the writing involved a joint effort, the application will be a “huge challenge for the faithful in Colombia.”

However, Hoyos pointed out, simply having the guidelines written and approved is not enough: “We now must take further steps so that the text comes to life. We must, as a church, become prophets and apostles of the culture of a care that is loving, respectful, and mindful of the other.”

The guidelines will take effect Jan. 1, 2023, but were welcomed by the bishops during their assembly this week. The aim of the document, according to the text, is “to put into practice the eradication of all types of abuse (of power, conscience, spiritual and sexual) that is generated in ecclesial environments by members of the church in the country, whether lay, religious or priests.”

The text is much more comprehensive in its scope than the original guidelines the Colombian bishops published in 2013: “Guidelines for the drafting of diocesan decrees for the protection of minors.” The new edition is titled “Culture of care in the Colombian Catholic Church.”

“It is precisely the coherence with the Gospel and the radical option for the protection and care of all – and in particular of the smallest and most – that brings us face to face with the inescapable need to recognize that, despite all the Church’s efforts to urge the faithful to live in a constant journey of holiness, there are painful facts of abuse and mistreatment within the Church,” reads the introduction to the guidelines.

The new guidelines take into consideration the recent documents and legislation from the Vatican, as well as regulations from the Colombian government.

The guidelines point out that the culture of care within the church is carried out through an interwoven net of people, institutions and offices both from the church and civil society, and as such, go beyond a mere collection of protocols and procedures, introduced as a “System for the Culture of Care.”

“It is a matter of eradicating the ‘pseudo-culture’ of indifference, rejection and violence, in the awareness that abuses are the result of a reciprocal and complex action of critical life moments and interpersonal, institutional, cultural and social factors,” the guidelines said.

The system for the culture of care is the “guarantor” of transparency; supervises the application of protocols while analyzing its success – or failure – to adapt it if necessary; guarantees the accessibility to a denunciation office; and it facilitates the access to justice, both civil and canonical, to those against whom a crime was committed.

Victims of criminal acts are to be given “spiritual, psychological and juridical” assistance and the system is also called to “prevent cover-up and negligence from Church authorities.”

The bishops acknowledge in the guidelines that “the authority we have received is a service, and a wrongful way of understanding it has allowed the conducts of sexual abuse, abuse of power and conscience, among others, by members of the Church.”

They also call for the victims to be put at the center; for transparency; for empathy and mercy with the victims, their families and their communities, but also with the aggressor; and for constant formation in prevention, but also in other areas often overlooked when systems of care are instituted worldwide, such as communication, so that the actions of the church in favor of creating a culture of care are made known.

The bishops committed themselves to adopting these norms within each ecclesiastical circumscription, and allow all believers and society in general to know them, in order to promote a “greater awareness of the loving care that pastors and ecclesial pastoral environments also require, whenever they work, meet and live with children, adolescents, young people, adults and vulnerable people.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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