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INTERVIEW with Jean Blaise Mwanda sscc

“Creating a culture of protection and prevention”

Recently, Thomas Sukotriraharjo and Jean Blaise Mwanda took part in a meeting regarding creating a culture of protection and prevention in regards to children and vulnerable adults which was held in Rome. It was organised by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG). We invited them to answer some questions on this important issue, for sharing with our readers.


In terms of the culture of protection and prevention of abuse, what concrete support do you give to victims?

I think the strongest moment of our training at Fraterna Domus was the testimony of two victims/survivors of sexual abuse. The man had been abused in his teens. The woman was a former nun, who had been abused as an adult. In telling their story, they needed to be listened to. Every time they recount their sad and painful experience, it's like therapy for them. The quality of listening is a path to healing wounds. It's a very moving exercise for them, for those who have testified (50 years on, but as if it were yesterday), but also and above all for those who are listening (how is this possible?). It's emotional and effective listening. It really is the art of listening without judging.

After these testimonies, I was very moved and ashamed to look at those beside me at my table. There was dead silence in the room. There's an African proverb: "Sometimes to console the one who cries, you have to cry with them". I think that was my moment to click. There was a change in the way I looked at the phenomenon of abuse in the church. There was a further realisation in me as I listened to these victims, of the need to always be open to understanding more of this problem in the Church. This meeting helped me once again reflect on the seriousness of this issue so as to continue to create this culture of protection and prevention of abuse.

When someone is accused, before the investigation is carried out, the presumption of innocence has to be considered. How do we deal with the brothers who are accused, bearing in mind this presumption of innocence?

In the case of a brother accused before and during the investigation, he is presumed innocent. We must wait for the end of this process, which can take  a very long time. The brother is withdrawn from his ministry because of these investigations. He remains in a community with his brothers. We were asked some pertinent and hard-hitting questions: What are you doing with the accused brother? Do you have a support plan for him?

The silence in the room said it all. Oftentimes we do nothing. Generally, the accused brother has already been condemned by the other brothers in the community before the investigation. He has tarnished the image of the institution and he no longer has any credibility. That's when the ordeal begins for the accused brother, who, we must remember, at this point is presumed innocent. Instead, he becomes like a ping pong ball, moving from community to community. It's often considered difficult to share life with him. He's already ‘shelved. It's as if the preaching of God's mercy that we undertake, is only for outside our communities, and not for among ourselves. This leads to the isolation of the accused brother, with the great risk of falling into alcoholism, cognitive distortions and even abandonment.

In the same way that I listen to and accompany the victims/survivors of abuse, I must also listen to and accompany the accused brother who is presumed innocent. We have to look after his spiritual life and draw up a support plan. Does he participate in the liturgy of the hours? Does he attend Mass or adoration? Is there spiritual, psychological or psychiatric support? This is a time of crisis, and a complex one for everyone. We need to listen and provide support.