By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service
(First in a series)
ROME — Since the 16th century, 16 popes have been students at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. I will never be the 17th — just ask my wife.
Instead, I am attending one of the oldest universities in the Eternal City as an American Catholic layperson to learn how to more effectively protect children from sexual abuse and better respond to the needs of victims and survivors.
After praying multiple never-failing “Flying Novenas” to ensure my wife and I were speedily granted visas by the Italian Embassy, I have finally made it to my flat in the local, non-touristy neighborhood known as Monti. Monti is less than a mile from the Colosseum as well as from the university. I highly recommend this neighborhood for those looking to escape huge crowds of tourists and find a little peace and quiet.
The Gregorian University’s 12-week interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors is offered through its Center for Child Protection. The curriculum is designed to equip me and the other dozen or so priests, religious and laypeople enrolled in the course with the tools to confront the issue of clergy sexual abuse through multiple lenses, including psychology, social sciences, theology and canon law. From now through June, I will be with international students learning from experts in a number of fields and discussing how we can strengthen the church’s efforts to prevent and respond to this grave sin.
Of course while there is still much to improve upon, dioceses in the United States have accomplished a great deal since the sex abuse scandals rocked the church in 2002. Through this course, it is my hope (and the bishops’) to share the experiences of U.S. dioceses, both our success and failures, with other students from dioceses around the world. I also expect to learn much from them. This dialogue will prove to strengthen the entire church’s approach to child protection and victim assistance.
Abuse is prevalent in all communities. It is our duty as a church to never again fail in our own sacred responsibility to carry out Christ’s call to protect the most vulnerable — not only in our own parishes, but across all geographic boundaries. The fact that the bishops of the United States, especially Bishop Edward J. Burns, chair of the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, have sent me to Rome to study this issue shows they remain committed to answer that Gospel call. I pray that through our studies, all of us at the Gregorian University will be better able to assist our bishops as they shepherd God’s flock.
Please pray for me and all of those studying at the Gregorian this semester. I encourage you to follow along with my studies and experiences at the Gregorian through this weekly blog. Ci sentiamo presto!
Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim.