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Conversation begins on sex abuse scandals

A question from the floor is posed to Dinna Bainey (left). Photo courtesy CFC

By Kaelanne Jordan, kjordan.camsel@rcpos.org

Archbishop Jason Gordon is hoping the ‘Conversations on Sexual Abuse Scandals’ will yield clarity and the “best solutions” that are “caring” for victims and their families, the Church community and the accused.

‘Conversations on Sexual Abuse Scandals’, a collaboration between Couples for Christ (CFC) and the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC) began October 27 as an opportunity for persons to communicate their concerns and feelings on the recent clergy sexual abuse scandals and share thoughts on how the Church community can protect and assist survivors.

Approximately 90 persons attended the preliminary open forum at St Benet’s Hall, Mt St Benedict from 8.30 a.m.–1 p.m.

Archbishop Gordon, who had agreed to attend as a listening presence gave brief remarks. He acknowledged that the dialogue was “fairly new” and they haven’t had a lot of experience dealing with the issue.

“So, when I heard of it today, I was very happy because we have to learn together to do this and we have to find the best ways to do it….the process that we have on the one hand has to be a process that is very protective of the privacy of the victim who is coming forward otherwise nobody will come forward.”

The Archbishop also reminded participants to care for the accused because not all are guilty. He warned, “…So you can’t start jumping to conclusions when a person is accused and you can’t hang them out to dry. And even for the people who are accused [and] are guilty, they are still our brothers and sisters and we still have to find a way to love, care, heal but ensure that they never do what they have done before.”

Also contributing to the discourse was Clinical and Educational Psychologist and President of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists, Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor who provided a summary of how widespread child sexual abuse is in society and the need to understand sexual abuse in the Church.

She outlined a brief history of allegations from the 1950s in Australia, Ireland, USA and Trinidad and Tobago which points to “too much complacency and cover up”.

Dr Nakhid-Chatoor discussed relevant terminology such as ‘child molester’, ‘pedophile’ and ‘homosexual’, emphasising that a predilection does not necessarily translate into acting out the desire. She shared that research suggests that less than two per cent of homosexuals are child molesters.

Quoting from both literature and her clinical experience, Dr Nakhid-Chatoor outlined the emotions that sexual abuse evokes in a child victim—self-doubt, self-hate, anger, denial, self-contempt, broken relationships, suicide ideation and self-harm.

“Many victims hide their true selves and wear masks to avoid more hurt as they fear that other persons may not like the ‘real’ person beneath the mask.”

She disclosed that children/youths who were abused seldom trust adults. She likened this to a “spiritual corruption, a comfortable form of blindness in which everything appears acceptable.”

Meanwhile, Dinna Bainey from Archbishop’s Office presented on the VIRTUS Programme. She introduced new terminology, differentiating between sexual exploitation, sexual misconduct, and harassment among others.

She alerted participants of the nine grooming tactics, tips on best practices in the event of suspicion of sexual abuse and the process for reporting an allegation. Bainey advised that while earlier responses suggested there may be allegations of sex abuse in public consciousness, the Archbishop’s Office can only deal with those actually reported to his Office.

The day’s agenda included a chronology of sexual abuse cases in the universal Catholic Church by Joseph Timothy and a presentation by CFC member Lloyd Theodore on the emotional effects of sexual abuse scandals on the average parishioner.

Presentations were followed by animated and sometimes tearful group discussions focused on three areas: emotional responses, improvements on the present local mechanisms for prevention of child abuse and improvements on the present local mechanisms for management of allegations.

Responses from all groups were amalgamated on spot by three CFC members then presented to the audience for clarification and verification. The recommendations will be printed and submitted to Archbishop Gordon for his consideration. —With reporting by Cheryl- Ann Mader, CFC member