Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, held a three day formation weekend, a program designed for a more intensive training of her seminarians. The program which was from Thursday 12th March to Saturday 15th March 2020 was anchored on the topic: The Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minor and Vulnerable Persons in the Church. The program was facilitated by a Clinical Psychologist, Sr. Dr. Mary Providentia Marinze of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation (IHM).
In the introductory part of her lectures, Sr. Dr. Mary Providentia noted that the mistakes of sexual assaults by some bishops, priests and seminarians had already caused great harm to the Church. Given the disturbing situation, she maintained that trainings and workshops must be carried out at this critical moment of the Church’s history for some important reasons: first, to promote safe environments for minors and vulnerable persons; second, to expose seminarians, and indeed, other ministers of the Church, to the realities of the moment. She, however, expressed optimism that her interventions would help seminarians to deepen their commitments to the life of chastity and celibacy which they desired to embrace.
The lectures which spread across 2-days were divided into three sub-topics, namely, the understanding of sexual abuse, the effect and trauma of sexual abuse and the pastoral aspect of sexual abuse (pastoral response to sexual abuse). It was noted that the reality that sexual abuse affects all the developmental stages of a child’s growth, and perpetrators of sexual abuse are mentally ill and low in morality.
On the second day of her lectures, Sr. Mary Providentia in tracing pedophilia as a psychiatric disorder and mental illness established that pedophiles could be psycho-sexually undeveloped, mal-developed, developmentally and emotionally fixated. She contrasted pedophilia with ephebophilia. Pedophilia, she explained, is the sexual molestation of children from 0-7 years while ephebophilia is the assault of children from 8-17 years. Ephebophilia as opposed to pedophilia is not a mental illness, nevertheless, it is considered a great moral failure and it is a crime. Ephebophiles are child molesters but not pedophiles. Both, however, show some apparent characteristics, namely, cognitive distortion, disordered sexual arousal pattern, low self-esteem, defiance sexual fantasies and deficiency in sexual knowledge.
Sr. Mary Providentia, on the third day of her lecture, schooled the seminarians on the processes of child abuse namely; engagement, grooming, actual victimization, disclosure and suppression, and many other conditions that promote child abuse.
The third day also featured a paper presentation by the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic diocese of Awka, Most Rev. JonasBenson Okoye. In his paper entitled: “Guidelines for Processing Cases of Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Persons”, BishopOkoye acknowledged the fact that through history, the Church had battled challenges one of which was the thorny case of the abuse of minors and vulnerable persons. He remarked, however, that in spite of these challenges, the Church had remained resolute and committed to the protection of vulnerable persons.
He reminded the seminarians that the civil and ecclesiastical penal laws have both lost patience and tolerance for anyone who sexually abuses minors and vulnerable persons. The bishop spelt out in clear terms, the resolutions of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria on the issue of abuse of minors and vulnerable persons, one of which was the creation of offices in every diocese where cases of sexual abuse would be reported for onward actions in line with the directives of the Holy Father. The bishop also spoke extensively from the canonical point of view and the implications of falling into such a case.
Sunday 15th March, 2020 was the Mass of thanksgiving that marked the end of the formation weekend.