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Pope Francis: Follow St John Bosco in the fight against abuse

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Comparing the fight against abuse with the war on drugs, the Pope said Don Bosco's 'preventive system' has much to teach us

Pope Francis has released a video message to participants in a training course designed to teach them how to prevent the abuse of minors.

Under the direction of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Formation for the Protection of Minors (CEPROME), Catholic leaders including those responsible for seminary formation, diocesan vicars-general, religious superiors, and mental health professionals are gathered for three weeks on the campus of the Pontifical University of Mexico in Mexico City to focus on abuse prevention.

Speaking without notes and apparently off the cuff, Pope Francis begins his message by greeting participants, and acknowledging the gravity of the issue. “The protection of minors is a serious problem,” he says. “It is a problem, the shame of which we all know, that it has brought to the Church, that our members have intervened, have acted in these crimes,” Pope Francis goes on to say.

Pope Francis proceeds to frame the issue in terms of scandal, “[T]hat no one should keep them from reaching Jesus.” Francis goes on to say, “Any person — male religious, female religious, lay, bishop — anyone who prevents a child from reaching Jesus, must be stopped in their attitudes, corrected if we are on time, or punished if there is a crime involved.”

The Holy Father then offers an analogy with the fight against the scourge of illegal drugs, from which he apparently wants an illustration of prevention’s greater effectiveness and cost-efficiency when compared with treatment. “How to cure a person addicted to drugs? It takes a lot of time even when it succeeds… but the most valid question is: How to prevent it, so that children do not fall into drugs? Here is [the question]: How to prevent it, so that children are not abused?”

The Pope mentioned the example of the great 19th century priest and educator, St John Bosco, whose “preventive method” — more formally known as the Salesian Preventive System — uses a precise and intensely personal approach integrating religious instruction focused on fostering genuine devotion, cultivation of the rational faculty, and the practice of basic kindness in teaching and applying the rules, in order to offer a chance at decent living to poor, orphaned, and otherwise at-risk children in Turin, Italy, at the height of the industrial revolution. It is the basis of Salesian pedagogy to this day.

Pope Francis never makes explicit exactly how either the drug abuse analogy or the Salesian educational philosophy are supposed to apply to the prevention of child abuse.

“[P]revent, prevent,” Pope Francis continues, “because you never know where a child will be abused, where a child will be led astray, where they will be taught to smoke drugs — which is a manner of corruption — because we do not think only of sexual abuse, [but of] any type of abuse.”

The remarks Pope Francis made in the video message to the CEPROME course participants are the first extended address he has offered of any aspect of the ongoing abuse crisis in the Church, since his speech at the end of the gathering of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences in February at the Vatican.

CEPROME’s General Director, Fr. Daniel Portillo Trevizo, told ACI Prensa he considers the Pope’s message important “as an encouragement and as a caress in such an intense week.” He went on to say, “Above all, because it comes to ask us, to question what our commitment to prevention truly is.”

Below, please find The Catholic Herald’s translation of Pope Francis’s remarks to participants in the CEPROME conference taking place July 1-26 in Mexico City

I want to salute you, who are doing the CEPROME course. The protection of minors is a serious problem. It is a problem, the shame of which we all know, that it has brought to the Church, that our members have intervened, have acted in these crimes. This course is important, however, not only for this [reason], but for all minors: that no one, no one, abuse them, no one should keep them from reaching Jesus. Let us listen once again to the voice of Jesus: “Let them come to me.” Do not keep the little ones from to me. Any person — male religious, female religious, lay, bishop — anyone who prevents a child from reaching Jesus, must be stopped in their attitudes, corrected if we are on time, or punished if there is a crime involved.

Prevention, however — Here it happens [that] I make a comparison that may not be very nice — is like the case of drug abuse: How to cure a person addicted to drugs? It takes a lot of time even when it succeeds, but, all that it takes [even when it is successful] —but the most valid question is: How to prevent [it], so that children do not fall into drugs? Here is [the question]: How to prevent [it], so that children are not abused?

To prevent, in order to care for minors: [this] is the apostolate of prevention.

Don Bosco sensed this. Don Bosco sensed this, and instituted a way of acting in education that was called the “preventive system” — much criticized — criticized by the most enlightened epochs in education, but later we realized that there was great value there. A fundamental value, an intuition of a great educator, the “preventive system” — prevent, prevent — because you never know where a child will be abused, where a child will be led astray, where they will be taught to smoke drugs — which is a manner of corruption — because we do not think only of sexual abuse, [but of] any type of abuse, any type of abuse.

I thank you that you have come to this course and given the best of yourselves [to it]. I wish you success and I ask you to pray for me. May Jesus bless you and the Virgin take care of you. Thank you.