What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
I thought of Juliet’s musings when it was announced that the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome will become the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC).
The Center for Child Protection has been the beating heart of the Vatican’s efforts to combat clerical abuse in the Church. It’s director, German Father Hans Zollner SJ, is the only person to belong both the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Vatican’s task force to help dioceses to help Catholic dioceses and religious orders develop guidelines to handle abuse cases.
The change in name is a change in status: The Center granted diplomas, but the new Institute will offer degrees and doctorates. It will also have a permanent academic staff.
Father Nuno da Silva Gonçalves SJ, rector of the Gregorian University, noted that the Center for Child Protection is a “leading authority in its expertise” on sexual abuse, and therefore “requires a different institutional and academic approach that exceeds the capacity of a center.”
“With this decision, our university reiterates and intensifies its commitment to the work of protecting minors and vulnerable people and supporting safe environments which promote respect for human dignity,” the rector added.
So far, so good. The Center is getting a bigger budget and more prestige. The Center is getting an upgrade.
Like the “strange flies” that Mercutio lamented (or the carrion flies that Romeo imagined buzzing freely when he learned he was banished to Mantua), the name change rings in my ear, and I just can’t ignore it. What is in a name, anyway? Does an Institute of Anthropology really smell as sweet as a Center for Child Protection when it comes to safeguarding?
An Institute of Anthropology is, well, an institute of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of human behavior and societies. It goes without saying that a proper understanding of anthropology is necessary for a proper understanding of sexual abuse, but that’s the point. Anthropology covers a lot of other territory.
In fact, most universities don’t put their child protection programs in the School of Anthropology. They locate them most often in the School of Social Work, but sometimes in Psychology or Sociology departments.
In its own press release, the Center for Child Protection noted the need for “identifying and studying the anthropological, social, and systemic factors that jeopardize human dignity,” adding this was important for promoting “the effective care and protection of every person – primarily children, who are the most vulnerable.”
Lots of evils menace human dignity in lots of ways – modern slavery, unjust wages, racism, etc. – all of them worth understanding better so we can fight them more effectively. In fact, it is essential the Church – and society – tackle them. In seeking to see the bigger picture, however, the danger is that the center will lose its particular focus on preventing clerical sexual abuse.
It is important to note that the current leadership at the Gregorian University and the Center for Child Protection are strongly committed to child protection as the primary objective of the Institute of Anthropology.
Fr. Zollner told Crux the center’s staff considered the possibility of creating an Institute of Safeguarding, “but the considerations and deliberations showed that, as of yet, there’s no academic discipline called Safeguarding.” The Jesuit added that anthropology is “as broad a discipline as you can imagine,” and pointed to the fact the subtitle of the new Institute is “human dignity and care of vulnerable people.” But Zollner and Gonçalves are both Jesuits and serve at the will of their superiors.
Also, Institutes are institutions: They outlive their founders.
Amnesty International was founded to draw attention to people imprisoned for their political views. It now advocates for the environment, good governance, fair trade, as well as LGBT and abortion rights. Some of these causes are praiseworthy, some of them are not. All of them take focus away from the political prisoners for whose liberty the group was originally founded to advocate.
As Amnesty International broadened its mandate – mission creep is the word – they continually had to justify their moves as being in alignment with their original mission. What have abortion and climate change to do with “amnesty”? The current leadership will perform prodigious acrobatics to explain how it is all interconnected. They have to do backflips, because – pace Juliet Capulet – names matter.
It is important for the Vatican to have a Commission for the Protection of Minors. Whatever one thinks of the Center’s upgrade, it remains important that the Church have other named institutions for child protection.
Just in 2019, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the prefect for the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, said the Catholic Church needs to find a “way of exiting” the abuse scandals enveloping the Church, fearing it would “suffocate us.”
The cardinal also said prelates could apologize “too much” for abuse.
Cardinal Turkson expressed the opinion with more frankness than is common among senior Churchmen, but the opinion is one many Church leaders share around the world, including in Rome.
It is far easier, under future leadership, to “broaden” the mission of an Institute of Anthropology so far that child protection is an afterthought, than it would be if it were an Institute – or even a Center – for Child Protection.
It would be a shame if one of the world’s foremost institutions for safeguarding ended up meeting the same fate as Romeo and Juliet.