In less than two weeks, on September 19th, an international conference organized by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Polish Bishops’ Conference will begin in Warsaw. It will be attended by representatives of bishops and people working in the field of the protection of children and youth in 20 countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Our common mission of safeguarding God’s children —the conference under this title will be held in Warsaw from next September 19th to 22nd. The international meeting is intended to promote the exchange of experiences and the initiation of joint actions, as well as closer cooperation between the Churches in Central and Eastern Europe within the field of prevention of sexual abuse against minors. Among the nearly 80 participants registered are members of the Pontifical Commission, bishops, major superiors of men’s and women’s religious congregations, and lay people working in the area of protection of minors in the respective countries. They represent the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Church from Poland, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Kosovo.
“This conference will focus not only on the state of the Church’s response to the crisis of sexual abuse against minors in our part of Europe but also be an attempt to look at some specific difficulties in the approach to this phenomenon in the Church and society,” emphasizes Fr. Adam Żak, SJ, coordinator of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the Protection of Children and Young People and a member of the organizing committee. Fr. Żak also expresses his hope that the international meeting will initiate an exchange of good practices and closer cooperation between people and institutions from Central and Eastern Europe in order to build more effectively and together a culture of protection of the most vulnerable.
The conference will include several lectures and panel discussions. In accordance with the theme of each conference day, they will focus on the following issues: responsibility – accountability – transparency. The speakers include the President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCTM) Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Fr. Prof. Tomáš Halík from the Czech Republic, Fr. Grzegorz Strzelczyk from Poland, Prof. Myriam Wijlens, Teresa Morris Kettelkamp, and Judge Neville Owen, who are members of the Pontifical Commission, and Prof. Paweł Wiliński, who collaborates with the PCTM. It is also planned to listen to a message from the Holy Father Francis addressed to the conference participants.
In addition to listening to the papers, participants will work in language groups, sharing how the issue of protection of minors appears in each country, both in terms of prevention and assistance to victims. Participants will also look at the challenges and opportunities for cooperation that face the Churches in this part of Europe.
Each day of the conference will include a time of common prayer, including a penitential liturgy. An important part of the conference will be a time dedicated to listening to people from different countries who have been hurt by clergy.
“The conference website is available at www.safechildren.eu. It contains basic information about the goals of the conference, its planned course, and the speakers. Through the site, journalists can register for scheduled briefings. We will also make press information available in the three official languages of the conference, that is, in English, Italian, and Polish,” notes Father Piotr Studnicki, head of the Office of the PBC’s Delegate for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The September conference in Warsaw is another of the continental or regional conferences initiated by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the Polish Bishops’ Conference was chosen as its co-organizer. The conference is co-sponsored by the PBC and the PBC’s St. Joseph Foundation.
(Translation from Polish: P. Nau / Office for Foreign Communication of the Secretariat of the Polish Bishops’ Conference)