ROME — The Center for Child Protection (CCP), part of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, has started the first semester in the new two-year licentiate master’s degree to combat and prevent child abuse.

“We need to spell out that the center of attention of the Church needs to be the protection of the most vulnerable, and among them are children,” Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Center for Child Protection and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told the Register. “This is not an add-on. … This is an essential part of the Church’s ministry.”

“What we want to do is train trainers, that they pass on a dissemination of what they have received here [at CCP] on the ground in the local churches,” Father Zollner added.

The licentiate program was designed to build upon the five-month intensive “diploma” course that was launched in 2016, to practically explore and master the central elements in “safeguarding” through specializations in either education, canon law, theology and formation, or psychology and psychotherapy.

CCP has also initiated an e-learning program in six languages for those who are unable to travel to Rome; the online curriculum, completed in a group setting, has currently reached more than 1,500 people, with 50 partners in 30 countries.

The need is great.

“There is really a lack of experts, and, very often, there is some kind of, not an ignorance, but the fear of how to deal with this issue,” Katharina Fuchs, Ph.D., who is co-administrator for the teaching and formation courses offered by CCP, told the Register.

The first semester is combined with both diploma and licentiate students in order for them to receive an overview on safeguarding and a mutual foundation of the topic. Of the 21 diploma students, seven (from four different countries) will continue on to the licentiate program to start building a stronger network of “safeguarders” all around the globe.

“With the method we have developed … ‘learner-focused,’ which is called a ‘portfolio approach’ in pedagogy, we need to stick to a relatively small number of students,” Father Zollner said.


Rigorous Selection Process

With a 24-student capacity, the selection process is rigorous, making sure that the students themselves are emotionally, spiritually and psychologically stable to deal with such a sensitive subject.

“With this method, we need to really look to another level of training, which is not only a knowledge base, but it is involving the whole humanity, the whole spirituality, of people because we believe that, yes, you need to know things, but you need to reach the heart level,” Father Zollner said.

This format brings safeguarding from theory into practice.

“Those with the diploma are able to help, to assist, to build guidelines and to give some formation sessions,” Fuchs said, referencing the global effort to fight abuse. “But those with the licentiate should be able to take more responsibility and to really be leaders for the topic in their culture, in their working field, according to their profession.”

The first semester of the licentiate is broken down into six units: childhood, sexuality and relationships, victims and survivors, perpetrators, institutions and preventative measures. They are intertwined with three practical weeks that involve how to live a chaste life, how to listen to victims, and how to conduct formation workshops.

The students begin by reflecting on their personal childhoods and how children are brought up in their countries in regards to language, culture and traditions, values and norms.

“All these issues are to better understand the rights of children on a very clerical and universal level, but also to ‘read’ children and how they are seen and respected in a culture in order to already see possible risk factors,” Fuchs said.

When focusing on personal sexuality and relationships, the students reflect not only on the definition of the word, but how human beings should understand sexuality in light of God’s plan.

The all-encompassing approach is necessary, in light of the gravity of the subject.

“Safeguarding, to deal with abuse, is not easy, especially if you have to do it every day,” Fuchs explained. “It’s important to be aware of your own resources, sense of self-care and emotional regulation; only then are you really able to support and help others in an appropriate way.”


Victims-First Approach

By applying a victims-first approach, one of the biggest focal points to the curriculum is understanding different types of victims; different types of traumas, physical, emotional and spiritual; and different forms of care, pastoral and therapeutic.

This leads toward understanding how to analyze perpetrators, the first signs and indicators of abuse, including “grooming” behaviors, consequences and treatments, in relation to civil law and canon law, and institutional risk factors and preventative techniques.

“My superior decided to send me here because we were not skilled and couldn’t handle so many issues,” Sister Theresa Olaniyan, of the Sisters of St. Louis from Nigeria, told the Register.

“I’m not going home to be a ‘loner,’” Sister Theresa said. “I’m going to create a team of professionals, psychologists, canon lawyers and civil lawyers.”

After the first intensive semester, CCP continues to form students in the licentiate master’s program by developing the four major specializations, anchored in in-depth theology and formation.

This approach includes small-group and individual discussions, expert advice on each topic, guidance from psychologists and spiritual formation.

“It’s not just a passive way of learning, but they have to do a lot of reflections on different topics, issues, texts,” Fuchs said. “There’s a lot of sharing in their group work so that they learn to work with others from different cultures and professional backgrounds.”

Then the students complete an internship related to their future work and professional background; their internship experiences will be the basis for writing a thesis during their last semester.


Long-Term Objectives

Program administrators are convinced this program will be a necessary one in the long term.

“I’m really convinced this is something long-lasting, as we are only at the very beginning,” Fuchs said about the effort to stop abuse. “It’s still a long and stony way, and there are still so many places where lots of things need to be done to create this attention, awareness and sensitivity.”

Rachel Lanz is a Register staff writer based in Rome.