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Lessons learned about Communications and about managing a crisis

Father Federico Lombardi SJ, May 22, 2019. (Photo by Mwelu A. Makunu/JCAM/Communications)

During the communications meeting in Rome, on the second day, May 22, 2019, Father Federico Lombardi SJ addressed conference communications directors. Walking in, the room went silent, as everyone stood up to meet and greet the 76-year-old. He is a man who has been at the service of the Church having served in communications for three popes, and as the former papal spokesman; he has been immensely involved in the fight against pedophilia in the Church.

Fr Lombardi SJ, is humble, yet conscientiously devoted persona; after years of carrying out his mission at the Vatican Communications Service, Pope Francis brought him back to moderate the unprecedented Vatican summit on sexual abuse that took place on February 21-24. 

During the meeting, Fr Lombardi SJ delved on the progress and steps made so far, with a presentation on “abuse issue in the Church: Lessons learned about Communications and about managing a crisis’’. His presentation gave insight on the state of communications around the subject of child abuse, highlighting the important role of communications, and also the challenges that come with the media when it comes to reporting on the Church. He emphasized on utilizing communications as a tool to create awareness, to fight against abuse, to build a prevention culture around our communities; "it should be an instrument for the fight against abuse not a technique of defense’’. He urged all communicators to create messages that are tailored towards the bigger picture, to change our perceptions, and attitudes in order to prevent cases of abuse. He stated that communicators play a vital role just like journalists, and hence we should be all allies in the fight against abuse, therefore we have to play our role objectively and be involved in helping the church: “…you are our allies in the fight against abuse, We have to be involved in helping the Church…”

Giving an outlook of the February Vatican summit on child abuse, that he moderated, he said that we need to amplify common awareness on instruments that will help fight against abuse, given the vast knowledge on what to do and what not to, the only hindrance sharing and making use of this knowledge.

Father Lombardi’s involvement in the fight against abuse in the Church, has led to the publication of his two articles in Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica. In his first article in December 2018, that touched on main stages of the clerical sex abuse crisis and the response from the Church during recent he called onto people “to face up to reality”. The second article of January 2019, “Child Protection: From awareness to engagement’’ simply looks at the best practices for responding effectively, citing examples from the Canadian Bishops.

Speaking about the crisis in the Church, he forewarns that unless the issue is "fully tackled in all its various aspects, the Church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, the credibility of its priests will be seriously wounded, as will the Church's mission "to proclaim the gospel and her educational work for children and young people." He observed that in order to make strides to heal the wounds of victims of abuse we need to find ways that can help in renewal and the Ignatian Spirituality can be an instrument in the healing process of victims…“ the Jesuits through the Spiritual Exercises can assist in the path of reconciliation, renewal, and re-integration with the faith, as many of the victims have not lost their faith”. He also observed having clear ideas and tools is not enough, rather “…we need to share deeply in the suffering and wounds of the victims”. The first major conference on child abuse awareness “Towards Healing and Renewal” was held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. A conference that saw the Centre for Child Protection formed.

In a world that poses so much danger to the young, given the ocean of the digital content, “Children have access to an ocean of pornography”…we should be alarmed by these dangers and the vulnerabilities they pose to our young children and begin to think how we can tackle the consequences that come with. A Conference was organized to respond to the digital dynamics, “The Dignity of Children in the Digital Era" in 2017 which led to the drafting of the "Declaration of Rome", presented to the pope. It calls for new approaches to alleviate sexual abuse in the internet era.

Father Lombardi concluded with an invitation to all communicators in the conferences “My hope is that you will extend service to the ways we can cope with the abuse crisis by communicating the initiatives the Society is undertaking on safeguarding in the various ministries”.