Some of our confreres, especially in remote areas, might not have the chance to read the Petit Echo, either because of postal delivery failure, or because they only have an Internet access on their cellphone. Whenever I read particularly essential articles, I will post them as ordinary posts on the website, which should be easier to read from a cellphone. Don’t miss those.
Integrity and Mission, a Topical Issue
Stéphane Joulain, M.Afr. (in PE nr 1114)
In the early 1960s, our Society stopped issuing what was known as the Directory. The documents therein foresaw the different aspects of missionary life. There were very clear guidelines on how to relate to others: men, women and children, laity and religious. There were indications as to where to receive visitors that the missionaries welcomed: in the offices, but never in the rooms, etc. From the beginning of its foundation, the Society was aware of the limits of human nature and the risks that these limits could pose to the work of the mission. However, the winds of freedom of the sixties and seventies “blew” these documents away. Individual conscience became the sole guide for discerning the morality and integrity of the missionary’s action.
This lack of understanding of human nature by a Church that nevertheless proclaimed herself through the voice of Paul VI as an “expert in humanity”, led to many evils. Even if they were not new, these evils were dramatic for many. The risk, in suppressing any form of discipline or legislation, is that the individual finds himself before the dictate of his ego and of his search for power. If the individual has not internalised a framework that restrains his all powerfulness, then the abuses is a genuine risk. The provision of an external inhibiting framework, which is a reminder of the fundamental law of respect for the integrity of one’s neighbour, is then indispensable. Otherwise, the risk becomes so high that the focus will no longer be on the proclamation of the Good News of the Risen Christ, but on the proclamation of the superiority of the missionary over the rest of the faithful.
Fortunately, the vast majority of missionaries are men of faith and morals, entirely given to the mission of Christ, with their limitations, of course, but with generosity and love for their neighbour. However, some joined our Society without much integrity, and have succeeded in taking advantage of their neighbours. These are the mercenaries for whom “the sheep do not really count”, of whom Christ speaks (John 10:13), they are not missionaries.
It had therefore become important to have clear guidelines in our Society to protect those we serve. For this reason, in 2008 our Society provided guidelines for working with the most vulnerable in our ministry. These instruments were revised on a regular basis until we published our current Policy (2015) on the Prevention of Abuse as well as different tools from the Vademecum of Government for the Provinces and the Vademecum for Initial Formation. At the provincial and sector levels, various more contextualised instruments were developed.
Some, often the confreres who have difficulty with their search for power and self-affirmation, have interpreted these guidelines as limiting their freedom. However, these policies are not there to limit freedom, but to protect the weakest.
Certain toxic comments then began to circulate, for example claiming that one could no longer touch children, not even to bless them; saying that a witch hunt was being conducted; that the Coordinator of Integrity of Ministry (CIM) was the new inquisitor; that the Canon Law and our Oath would be sufficient, etc. Such comments were all fantasies that reflect the difficulty of integrating new parameters of missionary work and the difficulty for some to compromise their search for power. It also reflects another difficulty; that of integrating obedience together with chastity.
Let us be very clear here, it has never been forbidden to ‘chastely touch’ children in order to bless them. In Africa, it is common at the end of Mass, to see the little ones come to the priest to receive blessings, it is a beautiful evangelical experience, and there is no question of forbidding it. It is not what happens in public that is the problem; it is what happens behind closed doors, far from the inhibiting gaze of others that needs to be controlled. It is important to respond to the invitation of the Universal Church and the successors of the Apostle Peter, of giving justice to those who have suffered from the behaviour of some of our confreres and have had to live for decades, sometimes their whole life with dramatic consequences, while the confrere who committed such abuse continues to enjoy all the benefits of our small Society.
CIM is not an inquisitor. The only persons who can exercise the power of governance in our Society regarding this kind of matter are the Superior General and the Provincials. They are the only ones authorised to undertake any canonical procedures that may be required. The CIM acts simply as a counsellor and can at times evoke the framework of the law.
Finally, neither Canon Law nor our oath are sufficient instruments to ensure effective prevention and maximum protection of the most vulnerable. It is for this reason that the Vatican, and in particular the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, decided to come up with a policy to make the Church safer. All the dioceses of the world, religious congregations and institutes of consecrated life have also been invited to do so. We should rejoice that since 2008 we have such instruments in our Society. The oath does not speak of protecting the most vulnerable, perhaps it should. This is a legitimate concern. In the past, the oath did not include the formula of commitment to celibacy but it was later added.Why not introduce a formula in which we would commit ourselves to respect the physical, moral and spiritual integrity of the peoples we serve?
Our founder was very much aware of the risks of a missionary apostolate without a specified structure. I did mention this in a previous issue of the PE. Our archivist at the Generalate recently shared with me another interesting text from our Venerable Founder. While he was stranded in Carthage because of a cholera epidemic (past circumstances which seem more familiar to us today), he wrote in 1885 to missionaries who were making their annual retreat. In between various encouragement in the face of external criticism, he pointed out a worrying situation of internal deviation which existed already at the time:
‘So it is to you, my dear Children that I am speaking today. The wickedness and boldness of your enemies are beyond your control and you must be resigned to suffer them. But what depends on you is to avoid anything that could in your life as missionaries, be displeasing to God’s heart, stop the flow of His blessings and thus bring about a downfall even more painful and irretrievable than the one that could come from outside (…) for the most serious reasons and out of fear of misfortunes that will be forever deplorable, I find myself obliged to put an end to the too frequent and too close relationships that existed almost everywhere between the sisters and the missionaries. I leave it to your Father Superior to give you in this regard the clarifications and details which prudence prevents me from entrusting to paper. I will limit myself to saying that from several quarters at the same time, from persons who are very serious and least suspect of partiality, I have received observations and complaints about these multiple relationships and the calumnies which resulted from them. Having therefore weighed all these considerations before God, I have also decided to separate completely, at least for a time and until the congregations have grown older, the government of the sisters and that of the missionaries, as regards both their general and particular direction.’ (Cardinal Lavigerie Anthology of texts, Volume V, pp. 92-104).
Our founder was a visionary and a man of sure moral integrity; he knew all the damage that some behaviour may cause: damage to people, damage to the proclamation of the Good News. May we draw from his example our determination and the integrity necessary for our mission.