Brother Robert Schieler was recently elected Superior General of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He cares particularly for the protection of children in the Congregation, a topic closely related to the fight of the BICE against sexual abuse of children. To illustrate the field work of numerous congregations on this important topic, we have asked him to talk to us about the measures taken within his institution.
How was the internal policy for the protection of children born in your Congregation?
Every year, the Superior General writes a pastoral letter to all the Brothers of the Institute.
In 1999, the then Superior General John Johnston had entitled his letter « About the defense of children, of God’s Reign and of the Lasalian mission ». His thesis went as follows: « The situation of poor children in the world today is an unspeakable scandal, and our Lasallian charisma leads us to focus our mission on supporting children that are neglected, abandoned, and marginalised ». Brother John continued by highlighting the numerous violations of Children’s rights in the world, explaining that « millions of children, girls and boys, are today the victims of sexual abuse, often on top of physical violence ».
In his letter to the Brothers of the institute on October 21st 2002, his successor, Brother Alvaro Rodriguez Echeverria, went further, explaining that the policies for protection against sexual abuse in each province had to ensure that the rights and well-being of the victims were the priority. That same year, the Institute provided the provinces with different prevention policies models that they could adopt or adapt to their specific situation. In 2004, a group of six brothers were welcomed in Rome to examine the policies adopted by the provinces and to define the guidelines of a policy to prevent sexual, physical and emotional abuse. This policy included a definition of the abuse, the processes to follow, the role of the chiefs of provinces in pastoral support of the victims, pastoral attention for the persons suspected of committing abuse and the surveillance of those who were proven guilty. It insisted on the necessity to establish, if it was not the case yet, a training program able to prevent any type of abuse.
How was this policy applied to the different regions where the Congregation is present?
The provinces of the Institute of Brothers of the Christian Schools are autonomous. Each province is responsible for its own child protection policy, and each must be established in respect to the laws of the country involved. They are also required to update it regularly and provide a copy to the Center of the Institute.
We are aware of the importance of training our members on the nature of sexual abuse and the differences that exist in the numerous countries where the Institute is present. Therefore training sessions are organised every other year for new members. They include training on the protection policies mentioned earlier and also case studies to help the leadership to understand the omnipresence of the abuse in all cultures.
Have you noticed any resistance from the members?
I would not use the word resistance, but some participants did not feel affected by cases of abuse that occurred, according to them, only in the Anglo-Saxon world. However, after a few training sessions at the Institute, all the provinces have realised how a child protection policy is necessary everywhere.
What are the positive effects noted so far?
The positive effects are great: we have a better understanding of the extent and frequency of sexual abuse of children, of the nature of this abuse, of how to prevent it and of the means by which to identify potential attackers. Members of the Congregation have also become more attentive to one another. We all understand better that we are all responsible to protect those entrusted to us.
Through its training program, the Institute allows for a better preparation of its future members on these questions. The evaluation of the candidates also includes a greater consideration of their psychosexual development and their affective maturity to live a healthy religious life of celibacy. We need to never lose track of the tragedy that sexual abuse is and the importance of preventing it.
We must stay vigilent and able to anticipate. Our General Chapters happen every seven years. Every time, we review our actions in favour of protecting Child rights.
In 1993, for instance, during our 42nd General Chapter, we urged the provincial Chapters to evaluate their projects and works for the promotion of youth justice, the improvement of literacy and the promotion of child rights. In 2000, it was decided that child rights are a major pillar of our educational mission, particularly in order to detect the violations, to let the authorities know and ensure that our schools and universities teach about child rights and respect them. In 2007, we organised the setting of new programs to accommodate children, teenagers and families at risk. Finally, last year, during our last Chapter, we committed to sensitise the Lassalians to the challenges that children and teenagers face in order to continue defending their rights, in correlation with the BICE proposal.
On May 20th the BICE is organising a Congress at Collège des Bernardins entitled “L’abus sexuel des enfants : mécanismes de protection et resilience”. (Sexual abuse of children: mechanisms of protection and resilience).
There is free entry upon prior registration.