Protecting children: Being our brother’s keeper

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Third in a series)

ROME — On Monday, classes at the Gregorian kicked into full gear for the Diploma in Safeguarding of Minors. We were happy to have the opportunity to begin the day with Mass in the university’s chapel. The first reading from Genesis 4 recounted Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel. The Gospel from Mark 8, described how the Pharisees asked for a sign from Jesus, which Jesus did not provide because of their lack of faith. Based on the readings, the main celebrant, Jesuit Father Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, who is also the rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, preached a great homily to my class.

promiseTwo simple messages from his homily still remain with me. First, as Catholics, we are indeed our brother’s keeper. We must be concerned with how others are being treated. Second, it is our duty to be the signs of Christ’s love in the world, especially as it relates to the protection of children and care of survivors of abuse. Christ, who is the “way, the truth and the life,” must be the source and foundation of our efforts if they are to be truly effective. This is something I have written in previous blogs, and will probably write again, because it is so important to remember.

Following Mass, my class received an official welcome from our professors. We were also introduced to some of the doctoral students who will be conducting post-doctoral seminars every week as a continuation of their previous work on the issue of abuse.

pledgeThe rest of the week our classes centered around three topics: culture and childhood, terms and definitions, and restorative justice. These are just three of the dozens of topics we will be covering over the next 12 weeks. For this week’s blog, I would like to reflect on some ideas we discussed regarding culture and childhood.


Girls at a protest against child marriage in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 18, 2017. According to UNICEF, in 2016, 52 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before the age of 18, one of the highest rates in the world. (Photo credit: CNS/EPA)

The first is that different cultures have different concepts of when childhood begins and ends. For example, in some cultures, individuals are considered to be adults when they reach 14; in other cultures, 18. The concept people have of childhood varies based on their traditions, laws and culture (including religion); they do not base their concepts of childhood strictly on biological or psychological factors. The U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms define any sexual activity between an adult and minor under the age of 18 as abuse.

Another thing we learned is that economic status impacts the rate of abuse of minors. For example, a 2013 study of children in Argentina conducted by Observatorio de la Deuda Social showed that children whose families were in the bottom 25th percentile of income were twice as likely to be exposed to physical abuse as those in the top 25th percentile of income. The reasons for this discrepancy are many and would need much more space than this brief blog post.

epaselect epa04664840 A child stands in a slum behind Nile City Towers, in Ramlet Bulaq neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt, 16 March 2015. Ramlet Bulaq's residents live in run-down shacks and lack basic facilities, such as running water. They make for an extreme juxtaposition with the gleaming Nile City Towers, home to wealthy companies, a nightclub and the Fairmont Hotel, which has a swimming pool on its roof. During an investment conference that wrapped up activities on 15 March, the Egyptian government signed a 45 billion dollar agreement with an Emirati company to develop a new administrative capital east of Cairo. EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

A child stands in a slum in Cairo, Egypt. In this 2015 photo, residents lack basic services, such as running water. They live alongside a wealthy neighborhood featuring the Nile City Towers, home to big businesses, a nightclub and hotel. (Photo credit: CNS/EPA)

These are just two small pieces of what we covered in regards to culture and childhood. We began with this topic because it is important to be well-versed in cultural differences before preparing to implement protection and assistance policies in another country or culture.

Next week I look forward to both the seminar on psychology with Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Center for Child Protection, and the seminar on developmental psychology with Jesuit Father Xavier Hwang. 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. 


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One Response to Protecting children: Being our brother’s keeper

  1. Drew dillingham says:

    Mom got u started on Robert Barron

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