Prevention. This word is often mentioned when it comes to the Catholic Church's desire to protect children and young people from sexualized violence. How prevention works? The expert of the archdiocese of Cologne provides information.
Interviewer: Prevention is about developing a culture of mindfulness. What does this look like?
Manuela Rottgen (prevention officer in the Archdiocese of Cologne): We understand by the culture of mindfulness a respectful and appreciative treatment of the persons entrusted to our care. On the one hand, this can be the minors who are in the many facilities in our Archdiocese of Cologne. But that can also include adults in need of protection or assistance, such as those in our retirement facilities, homes for the elderly, facilities for the disabled, or hospitals.
Interviewer: Now the Archdiocese of Cologne has had a prevention officer for almost eight years and this culture of mindfulness should continue to grow. By what does it grow?
Rottgen: On the one hand, it grows through the prevention training, which is obligatory for all those active in our diocese, that is, for both full-time and honorary employees, for the clergy, for all those who work for us.
Interviewer: Also for the bishops?
Rottgen: Also for the bishops. The bishops, the vicar general, all have undergone such training. This training is primarily about developing a sensitivity to the protection of children and young people. To adopt the attitude: "I am a capable protector for the child entrusted to me, because children cannot protect themselves when they find themselves in a situation of violation of boundaries or assault."
This has two facets, this culture of attentiveness: On the one hand, that I observe the child very closely and also intervene consistently if I determine that the well-being of the child is no longer guaranteed. On the other hand, I also have to be very self-reflective about my own behavior. So, how do I personally deal with the people entrusted to me, with the child who is in my kindergarten or in my library or wherever?? So that I, for example, pay attention to an appropriate proximity and distance behavior.
Interviewer: What does that mean in concrete terms? For example, what is different today than it was a few years ago??
Rottgen: We remember very well in our first communion time that, for example, the first confession took place in a closed room, where one was alone with the priest, in order to then also be able to have a confidential conversation.
This changes to a large extent today. It takes place for example in the whole group in the church. The children then sit in the row and the child who is about to make his first confession is then with the priest, for example, in the sanctuary. But that is insightful.
Interviewer: Priests are currently the focus of the MHG study. Where are prospective priests, who then work in the parish, trained?
Rottgen: Priests are immediately subjected to prevention training in the training process. Right in the study at the Albertinum in Bonn, the so-called prevention training of type B, i.e. a full-day prevention training, takes place.
In addition, there is an advanced module in the seminary here in Cologne, where it is again about preparing the priest for his role as a priest in the parish with regard to the prevention of sexualized violence.
Interviewer: Then when he's at work, there's a refresher course?
Rottgen: Exactly, the prevention regulations stipulate that all employees, all volunteers and also the pastoral services take part in a so-called in-depth event every five years, where after five years it is once again a question of explicitly looking: What is important in my field of activity with regard to the prevention of sexualized violence?.
Interviewer: Are all these measures enough??
Rottgen: The measures are based on current professional standards, as recommended, for example, by the independent commissioner of the federal government, Johannes Rohrig. Whether they really do prevent sexual abuse, we can't honestly say. There will certainly always be perpetrators or perpetrators who try it nevertheless.
But precisely because of the increased awareness, because of the culture of attentiveness, we can see that there is much earlier intervention when there are boundary violations, and thus the so-called "grooming", i.e. the initiation of sexual abuse, can be interrupted very early, the protection of the child can be restored, and accordingly we can also talk to the accused in order to stop this misconduct.
Interviewer: If someone approaches you who has been affected by abuse, what do you do then?
Rottgen: I either pass this report on to one of the three contact persons designated by the diocese for those affected or for reports of assault. Or I contact the intervention officer directly, who then in turn initiates the clarification of this case with appropriate experts – these are all external persons who are on the advisory staff of the Archdiocese of Cologne.
Interviewer: Once again back to the culture of mindfulness. To what extent does the culture of mindfulness, of looking, also include that we have to strengthen the children, that instead of obedience, the children rather learn to become a strong personality and also to be able to defend themselves?
Rottgen: That is an important facet of the work, which is also located in the prevention order, that all institutions and schools and kindergartens carry out appropriate projects, measures, parents' evenings on this topic.
Basically, children cannot defend themselves alone. But we can give the children a lot to help them develop a healthy self-confidence, which they can then show and thus become less susceptible to perpetrators. If they then find themselves in the situation again, they still find it difficult to defend themselves against it. But they have simply learned: I am important. What I say is heard. I am allowed to say no. Also with my parents."
Parents don't always like to hear this, but there too they learn: "I am important and I am allowed to speak my mind."And if they learn this in this context – also by the example of educators of teachers – then they take this as a tool into life and it strengthens them.
Interviewer: This culture of mindfulness concerns us all. We all have to participate?
Rottgen: In the same way it is. Each and every one of us, whether we are volunteers or whether we work full-time for the church, are called upon to live this culture of mindfulness.
Interviewer: The MHG study also addresses the topic of prevention. What can you, as prevention officers, learn from the study in order to develop your prevention work even further, to improve it?
Rottgen: Those affected would like to be significantly more involved in prevention work as well. And this is indeed a task that I have to take up as well. Because we can certainly learn from the painful experiences that those affected have had for our prevention work, how we can improve our measures even further.
The interview was conducted by Susanne Becker-Huberti.