“Words cannot fully express my sorrow for the abuse you suﬀered. You are precious children of God who should always expect our protection, our care and our love. I am profoundly sorry that your innocence was violated by those whom you trusted. In some cases, the trust was betrayed by members of your own family, in other cases by priests who carry a sacred responsibility for the care of souls. In all circumstances, the betrayal was a terrible violation of human dignity.”
(Pope Francis speaking to victims of sexual abuse, September 2015, USA)
4.1.1 The term ‘survivor’ is often used in relation to those who have suﬀered abuse. One should not assume that identifying as a ‘survivor’ means that recovery is complete. The work of finding healing is not without cost and the recovery of a lost childhood is impossible.
4.1.2 It is also important to note that some do not believe that they have ‘survived’ . They might not only continue to feel victims of abuse but might also experience any contact with the Church as reinforcing their perception of the Church as abusive and harmful. Moreover, some would identify as ‘victimsurvivors’ who struggle to hold on to a sense of hope.
4.1.3 Some who have suﬀered abuse within the Church might also choose not to define themselves by either term ‘victim’ or 'survivor'’ . The sensitive use of language must be a consideration at all times. This document will defer to using the term ‘survivors’ but does so whilst mindful of the various ways in which those who have suﬀered abuse might wish to describe themselves.
4.1.4 Survivors of abuse of any form deserve the greatest care and respect. Their courage in coming forward to disclose their experience to personnel within the Church can never be underestimated. So, Church personnel must take care to provide an immediacy of response (as well as sensitive care) to anyone who wishes to talk about the harm they have suﬀered.
4.1.5 Any response from Church personnel should respect the dignity and the woundedness of the survivor who may desire to make choices about how to speak to any Church personnel. (Often a survivor may feel that control and freedom to make choices has been taken away from them.) Safeguarding personnel must therefore be mindful of the importance of respecting and facilitating choices.
4.1.6 Once a survivor makes contact with anyone in the Church, this must be referred to the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser who should then oﬀer to meet with the survivor to hear whatever he/she wishes to disclose. Once it has been agreed how the survivor wishes to be contacted, the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser, ahead of the first meeting, must send an Information Leaflet on the Process for Survivors30Section C: Information Leaflet on the Process for Survivors together with a letter to the survivor confirming these points:31Section C: Letter to survivor regarding first meeting with Safeguarding personnel
- If the allegation has never been reported to the Police, then the survivor must be informed that the Church will report the allegation, whether the accused is alive or deceased. (It should be understood that, in some cases, the survivor might not understand that he/she is making an allegation.)
- The survivor may contact the Police directly to make an allegation, if he/she has not already done so.
- The location of the meeting should be safe and private. Oﬀering the survivor a choice about the meeting location is an indication of the respect being aﬀorded to him/her. A requirement to attend a Diocesan Oﬀice or other Church building might be traumatic.
- Although it is important that the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser attends, the choice of gender (and lay, clerical or religious state) of the Church personnel attending is important. The survivor may wish to be accompanied by a friend; this should be discussed and agreed prior to the meeting. The survivor may wish to meet with the Bishop or Major Superior; this should be facilitated but never be imposed.
- The main purpose of the meeting is for the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser to listen to the survivor who should be encouraged to share what they are seeking from the Church. This is the start of a process that might take some time.
4.1.7 At the end of the first meeting, a summary of what decisions or actions were agreed, and the option for a further meeting, should be discussed.