Archdiocese of Hyderabad

Safer Spaces Team

Creating a Safe Environment for Our Children in the Ecclesiastical Units of the Archdiocese of Hyderabad

It is an indisputable fact that our children are the treasures of our faith communities. We need to nurture and care for our children who are the future of the Church. The Church has an important role and responsibility to protect the Children and youth under its care. The Church strictly condemns any acts of abuse and violence especially with regard to Children. The reports about Child sexual abuse that we read and see on news disturbs us to a great extent. It also reminds us to retrospect and ask questions like “Where are we heading as a Society?” It is our moral responsibility and duty to address issues related to child safety and create awareness in the Society.

According to UNICEF “India has a wide range of laws to protect children and child protection is increasingly accepted as a core component of social development. The challenge is in implementing the laws due to inadequate human resource capacity on the ground and quality prevention and rehabilitation services. As a result, millions of children are prone to violence, abuse and exploitation.”

Violence and abuse can take place in all settings: at home, school, child care institutions, public communities etc. Unfortunately, not even houses of worship are immune from the occurrence of abuse. It is to be noted that very often violence is perpetrated by someone known to the child.

Sexual abuse is a crime that leaves a significant scar in the lives of victims, and the consequences can be especially severe when the victim is a child. Abused children may face serious long-term difficulties with psychological and mental health. Victims of sexual abuse are often at a higher risk for depression, anger, substance abuse, sexual difficulties, self-destructive behavior, and sexual revictimization.

The Apostolic Letter MOTU PROPRIO issued by the Supreme Pontiff His Holiness Pope Francis on 7 th May, 2019 titled “VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI (You are the light of the world)” reminds us all about our duty and responsibility in safeguarding the dignity of the members of the Church especially that of Children. “The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful. In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission. This becomes possible only with the grace of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, as we must always keep in mind the words of Jesus: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Even if so much has already been accomplished, we must continue to learn from the bitter lessons of the past, looking with hope towards the future.”

Pope Francis stipulated that all Priests and members of religious orders are obligated to report any suspicions of abuse to their superiors.

The Catholic church in the west has suffered gravely and has gone through a significant process of policy making in order to address the concerns related to child sexual abuse. In the summer of 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) responded to the sexual abuse problem by issuing the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The scars of the abuse has shocked and shattered the faith of many Faithful and posed a great threat to the Church in the west.

In 2015 The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) drew up guidelines on the procedures to be followed in dealing with cases of sexual abuse of children by clerics. In 2017 another document titled “CBCI guidelines to deal with sexual harassment at workplace” was promulgated by the CBCI. This document specifically focusses on sexual harassment of women working in institutions run by the Church. It was prepared by the Bishops with the aim of "creating a safe and healthy working environment, where employees can work peacefully without fear of prejudice or harassment of any kind".

Child abuse is a matter of serious concern because the effects of having been abused can last a lifetime. Those who have been abused seldom just get over it. The sense of violation goes deep into a person’s psyche and feelings of anger, shame, hurt and betrayal can build long after the abuse has taken place. Some have even described the feeling as if it has scarred their soul.

Child sexual abuse can certainly be prevented through awareness. We need to identify and build safety barriers around our children and young people to keep them from harm. These barriers come in the form of protective guardians, codes of conduct, background evaluations, policies and procedures, and safety training programs.

Our Commitment to a Safe Environment

Faithful to the Lord’s desire to let the children come to Him, the Church has, from its beginning, took special care and interest to initiate children into its sacramental life. It has opened to them the treasure of truth and has striven to form them in gospel values. It has attempted to guide and support parents and guardians in their crucial role in the formation of children. Parishes have devoted tremendous energy and resources to the development of their young members, and countless individuals have dedicated themselves to nurturing young Catholics. God has placed His wonderful creation in our hands.

But there are sometimes exceptions. Both through neglect and active abuse, adults in the community of faith have, on occasion, inflicted harm upon children instead of having served as channels of life and grace. This is a very serious matter. It is especially so because children and adolescents are not equipped to understand such situations or to defend themselves.

It is not only persons who have been abused suffer alone but also their family members who go through pain and humiliation and often end up confused and angry. Parishes communities and Church institutions too are left hurt, confused, and embarrassed. The Church’s reputation in the community, and, therefore, its ability to fulfill its mission, is harmed.

Although the abuse of children and adolescents is a reality in our society, such abuse, whether physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional, whether inflicted by lay or ordained, professionals or volunteers, cannot be tolerated in the Church.

The Archdiocese of Hyderabad is committed to providing safe environments and fostering continuous improvement in every organization that sponsors activities and/or provides services to children and youth. We need to be vigilant in knowing the background of the people who are working or volunteering in our institutions and Churches and make the protection of our children a top priority. It is high time that we address these issues and we can’t imagine how damaging spiritually, emotionally, and practically it would be for our church/institution to be the “place” where abuse takes place.

We urge every Institution and Church to identify workshops, educational materials, classroom instructions and any other resources that may be useful in order to prevent abuse of Children and to spread awareness. We need to empower our children and adults to act before abuse occurs. Awareness has to be created so that if any such incidents or suspicious activities occur, the matter is brought to the notice of the appropriate Civil and Church authorities immediately.

Suggestions/Guidelines and Precautionary measures to be followed while dealing with Children especially Minors.

  • The Clergy of the Archdiocese, and those lay persons employed or engaged as employees or volunteers at all Archdiocesan Organizations, have an obligation to be knowledgeable about causes and signs of child abuse and should take necessary steps to protect and safeguard the wellbeing of children especially while they are in the premises of the Church/Institution.
  • Not only are the persons described above responsible for the well-being of children on a day-to- day basis, but also, they are perceived by the community and children as special and trustworthy individuals.
  • Clerics, employees, and volunteers should learn as much as they can about the causes, forms and symptoms of child abuse through reading, participation in workshops, and discussions at the Staff meetings and through all other means that deemed necessary to obtain knowledge in this regard.
  • While planning and executing activities which are beneficial to children, the Church Personnel must be vigilant to guard against actual or potential situations which can inflict harm, or which even give rise to suspicions of potential abuse.
  • Pastoral prudence is to be applied to engage the presence of at least two or more adults especially while dealing with Children/Minors for programs/events in campus or off-campus. For any organized program or activity sponsored by the Archdiocese or an Archdiocesan Organization, at least two adults, both of whom are considered to be trustworthy and morally upright must be present for any activity at the Church/Institution including, but not limited to, after school tutoring of any sort (whether the tutor is hired by the parents or not). Whenever possible, one of the adults should be a parent of a participant. Special care and precaution are to be taken specially for an activity which is presumed to go on till late evening or for an overnight activity and also activities that involve Children like Mission trips, School trips, Educational trips etc. and ensure the presence of two or more adults in such activities.
  • No child may be disciplined corporally or corrected with abusive language.
  • A cleric, employee, or volunteer must obtain the consent of the child’s parent before inviting or allowing a child to visit in the adult’s home or for any activity that is outside the regular program of the Church/Institution. At such meetings with the Child, presence of the Parent or Adult is strongly recommended.
  • No child may visit overnight in a Rectory/Priests residence (or other residence of an Archdiocesan cleric) or stay overnight with an Archdiocesan cleric in any other place, unless in the company of his or her parent. (An exception can be made when the child is a close relative of the cleric, but even this is discouraged.)
  • Clerics, employees, and volunteers will use prudence when communicating with a child including, but not limited to, written communications, electronic communications, the Internet, online services, e-mails, instant messaging, online bulletin boards, social networking sites, social media, text messaging, pod casts, blogs, chat areas, and telephones, including cell phones.
  • Appropriate and ethical communication boundaries in ministry must always be observed. Any form of communication that is intended to inappropriately manipulate a child or that incorporates any suggestive language, suggestive photos, sexual implications, inappropriate personal self-disclosures, etc., is forbidden. This includes visual, digital, or electronic communications in any format.
  • Clergy and other Church Personnel/employees, and all volunteers are prohibited to transport one child alone. There should be at least two adults in every vehicle that transports children. Children must never be transported without permission from the child’s parent. If possible, it is highly recommended to take a written consent of the parent and file it properly.
  • Physical contact with children:

  • Physical boundaries must be set that will promote a positive and nurturing environment while protecting children from misunderstandings. Becoming aware and following an explicit code of permitted behavior also assists in protection against false allegations of abuse.
  • Appropriate physical contact: Appropriate physical contact between adults and children is a positive part of a healthy relationship. The following are regarded as appropriate examples of physical contact: Pats on the head or shoulder when culturally and socially acceptable; Handshakes; “High-fives”; Holding hands during prayer or when a child is upset; Holding hands while walking with small children etc. In all these examples prudence is to be used so that there is no misunderstanding and harm caused to child and the Parents.
  • Prohibited physical contact: Some forms of physical contact have been used by adults to initiate inappropriate contact with children. In order to maintain the safest possible environment for children, the following are examples of physical contact prohibited from use by Clergy and other Church Personnel/employees, and all volunteers: Any physical contact that the child resists; any touching without the permission of the child; Any form of unwanted affection; Inappropriate, forceful or lengthy embraces, or hugs; Kisses; Lap-sitting; Touching buttocks, chest, knees, thighs, or genital areas; Placing hands in the pockets of a child; Showing any affection in isolated areas such as bedrooms, closets, adult-only or staff-only areas, or other private rooms; Laying down, cuddling, or sleeping near a child; Being in bed with a child at any time; Wrestling; Tickling; Massage given by an adult to a child; Massage given by a child to an adult; Any other activity with a sexual connotation.
  • Emotional boundaries:

  • In addition to physical boundaries that must be set, emotional boundaries must be created Examples of emotional boundary violations include: Compliments that relate to physique or body development; Meeting alone in locations away from a parish, school, institution, or other Archdiocesan Organization; Meeting alone in remote locations on the property of a parish, school, institution, or other Archdiocesan Organization; Calling, e-mailing, or texting a child for purposes other than those directly related to academics or ministry; Displaying and/or taking excessive photographs of a child; Engaging in sexually oriented conversations not related to education or ministry; Privately contacting a child by social media for any purpose.
  • Prohibited behaviors:

  • In addition to the above, Clergy and other Church Personnel/employees, and all volunteers are prohibited from the following:
  • Offering a child cigarettes, other smoking materials, or tobacco products, alcohol or illegal drugs, or allowing a child to use or consume these items;
  • Encouraging or allowing a child to visit inappropriate, sexual, or violent internet websites;
  • Providing a child with gifts/money without the permission of parents unless when distributed equitably to all children (for example, buying inexpensive gifts for all the altar servers);
  • Ridiculing beliefs held by a child’s parents; Asking a child to keep secrets from the child’s parents;
  • Speaking to a child in a way that is or could be construed by any observer as harsh, threatening, intimidating, shaming, derogatory, demeaning, or humiliating;
  • Using bad language, swearing, and/or cursing in the presence of a child; Behaving rudely in the presence of a child;
  • Possessing any sexually-oriented or morally inappropriate materials (e.g. magazines, cards, videos, films, DVDs, clothing, etc.) in the presence of a child;
  • Engaging in, viewing, and/or listening to child pornography, possessing child pornography on any personal electronic device, or on any electronic device owned by the Archdiocese or an Archdiocesan Organization.
  • Being nude in the presence of a child; Engaging in sexual contact with a child. Sexual contact is defined as vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, oral intercourse, or the touching of any erogenous zone of another including, but not limited to, the thighs, genitals, buttocks, pubic region, or chest, for the purposes of sexually arousing or gratifying either person.
  • Any overnight activity that does not provide for separate rooms for chaperons and children.
  • Please Note: All the above Guidelines/Precautions/Suggestions are not a foolproof or final list of things to be considered while dealing with Children and Minors. There may be many other things which need to be considered and to be dealt with Pastoral Prudence and care of the children.

    Points for discussion and further consideration:

  • Create awareness through preaching and teaching at the Church services and programmes.
  • Organizing Parish level talks to Parents, single-parents and guardians on roles and responsibilities in parenting and creating healthy environment for children and formation of children in Moral, ethical, spiritual and overall development.
  • Deanery level discussions and suggestions on the topic of child abuse during the Deanery level Monthly Recollections.
  • Identify and Develop training programmes for the workers/volunteers/personnel who are associated with Church/Institutions on creating a safe environment.
  • Conducting workshops, seminars and talks at Schools and Colleges.
  • Engage lay Professionals like Psychologists, Lawyers, Doctors etc., who can provide inputs and suggestions to curb abuse.