The just concluded JCAM bi-annual plenary that took place from the 24th to the 28th of April 2023 was special because it saw an important encounter with Father John Guiney, SJ (HIB) and Ms. Sandra Racionero-Plaza, who serve at the Jesuit Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Jesuit Curia in Rome.

Father John Guiney, SJ is the Project Coordinator in charge of the Promotion of a Consistent Culture of Protection (PCCP), while Ms Racionero-Plaza is in an assisting capacity. Ms. Racionero-Plaza is a professor at the University of Barcelona who has been involved for twenty years, cultivating a safe environment and promoting a consistent culture of protection - accompanying this with research and scientific knowledge.

Father Guiney, SJ was appointed on 16th October 2018 by Father General, Arturo Sosa to head the PCCP, following a letter number 2018/13 of 24th August 2018 titled To Share the Suffering of Victims of Abuse and Foster a Culture of Protection, addressed to the Whole Society and Companions in Mission. In this letter, Father General recalled Pope Francis’ invitation to religious to share in the suffering of many minors and vulnerable persons who were victims of sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience. The Church and the Society of Jesus were unfortunately not strangers to this terrible tragedy.

Referencing the Pope’s letter of 20th August 2018, Father Sosa pointed out that Pope Francis invited religious “to go beyond what had already been learned in these years, beyond policies of zero tolerance, protocols for responding to cases, efforts for reparation and programs of prevention. Indeed, the Pope was inviting religious to look to the future and to deepen the understanding of the causes of these wounds, to recognize their own participation by action or omission in causing them, and to find ways to bring about changes in the social structures that provoked them. He also invited them to personal, communal, and institutional conversion, to attend to the coherence and integrity of their lives, and to orient their apostolic action toward bringing about a culture, within and outside the Church, capable of ensuring that situations of abuse were not repeated and that a healthy life was guaranteed to all human beings.” Finally, Father Sosa called “the whole Society and the men and women with whom Jesuits partnered in mission to join with the entire People of God in desiring and to respond to the cry of Pope Francis.”

The PCCP team stressed that its processes were enshrined in the Universal Apostolic Preference (UAP) number 2, whose context was the call for justice and reconciliation. In their presentation, they reference what Father Guiney called the Pastoral Circle of Safeguarding which went from awakening to awareness and then to action and back to awakening in a spiral movement. They further pointed out that most Jesuit provinces were at the level of awareness, but still needed to do a lot because there were many people who did not see the urgency of the call of Pope Francis. This meant more intense training at all levels and the continuous development of policies and protocols to respond to local needs. Much work was also still needed in developing structures for listening and accompaniment at various levels. These could cater to victims, accused persons as well as families and communities around them. In essence, the safeguarding process still needed a lot of action in order to become a true process of the service of faith and the promotion of Justice which was the core mission of the Society of Jesus.

Father John Guiney, SJ and Ms Racionero-Plaza

The major superiors of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar also had one on one conversations with the PCCP team and shared the progress of safeguarding within their provinces and regions. It should be recalled that since October 2019, in order to deepen the Society’s commitment to promote a culture of protection and to strengthen the safeguarding mechanisms in JCAM provinces and regions, it had become a policy that no Jesuit could be admitted to orders today in Africa and Madagascar without showing certificate proof of having undergone rigorous training in safeguarding. This process was certainly going to be extended to final vows to cater to Jesuit brothers.

Both Father Guiney and Ms. Racionero-Plaza expressed gratitude to major superiors for the warm welcome they received and encouraged them to reach out for any help or support that they could need. They were accompanied to this meeting by Ms Beatrice Mumbi, the JCAM Safeguarding Coordinator and Ms. Anastasia Makunu, the safeguarding reference person for Africama House, Nairobi.

Ms. Beatrice Mumbi, JCAM Safeguarding Coordinator during the presentation on Safeguarding progress in JCAM.

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