Every Jesuit priest, upon making final vows, makes a special promise to exercise special care “for the formation of children and unlettered persons.” St. Ignatius believed that in the context of more “exciting” and “rewarding” ministries such as preaching, secondary and university education, spiritual accompaniment, and direct concern for the young and the vulnerable (which the expression “unlettered persons” represented in the context of Ignatius’ day) could easily be forgotten by those not actively engaged in care for them. He even went so far as to require, in the Jesuit Constitutions, that superiors of university communities spend 40 days every year in pastoral ministries to the young and the vulnerable.
Ignatius’ concern for the young and the vulnerable has taken on a new urgency in the Church of today, in light of revelations of long-standing abuse of young people and vulnerable populations by members of the clergy and religious orders (including the Jesuits of Canada).
Ignatius’ concern for the young and the vulnerable has taken on a new urgency in the Church of today, in light of revelations of long-standing abuse of young people and vulnerable populations by members of the clergy and religious orders (including the Jesuits of Canada). In Canada, this sinful history includes that of the residential schools. The Jesuits make their own the words of Pope Francis in his historic address to the Indigenous peoples of Canada on April 1 of this year: “I feel shame — sorrow and shame — for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture, and even your spiritual values. All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness, and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon. Clearly, the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself: Jesus taught us to welcome, love, serve, and not judge; it is a frightening thing when, precisely in the name of the faith, counter-witness is rendered to the Gospel.”
The Jesuits of Canada first established policies and procedures for the protection of the young and vulnerable populations in 1998, along with procedures for addressing complaints of abuse. These policies and procedures state clearly: “The Jesuits will intervene effectively to stop acts of abuse and misconduct by Clergy, Staff, or Volunteers and will take steps to prevent the occurrence of such abuse and misconduct. We will assist those who come forward with allegations of abuse and misconduct, ensuring that they are treated with respect and compassion. Where it is requested, this outreach may include provision of counseling, spiritual assistance, support groups and other social services agreed upon by the Complainant and the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits will also undertake pastoral outreach to Complainants and their families where requested or appropriate. This pastoral outreach may also be directed to the faith communities or congregation in which the sexual abuse occurred. Our prime concern must always be for the care and welfare of the Complainant, and the prevention of future abuse and misconduct.”
These policies also create and define the role of a Jesuit “Delegate for Conduct” who investigates complaints and reports to the Provincial. They put in place accessible complaint mechanisms; and mandate a series of practices of ongoing annual formation for all Jesuits residing in Canada in three areas: abuse prevention, obligations to report, and healthy personal and community living. We have long believed that helping Jesuits live happy and healthy personal and communal lives is the surest means of preventing abuse. Our experience bears this out.
The policies also require safe recruitment procedures of new candidates to the Society of Jesus (police checks, psychological evaluations, etc.). In addition to all this, works of the Society of Jesus are required to adhere to the safeguarding standards of the dioceses and civil jurisdictions in which they are established.
These procedures and policies have been periodically revised and updated; the last full revision was completed in 2019. At that time, a comprehensive policy for the prevention of sexual and other forms of harassment was added.
In 2021, the universal Society of Jesus introduced new standards to ensure the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults. They call for a “consistent culture of protection.” This has occasioned further review of our policies and procedures. They will now include guidelines for ongoing risk assessment. This includes ensuring ethical behaviour and safe environments for all Jesuits and coworkers. There will be additional training for the directors of works and local superiors who are responsible for safeguarding in their communities.
In 2021, the universal Society of Jesus introduced new standards to ensure the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults. They call for a “consistent culture of protection.”
The Jesuits of Canada, for almost the last 25 years, have strived to take responsibility for the care and protection of young and vulnerable persons. As St. Ignatius believed 500 years ago, such a concern is never ending and requires constant attention and renewed zeal. The second Universal Apostolic Preference of the Society of Jesus — to walk with the poor and the excluded — missions us, according to Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ, to help eliminate all forms of abuse inside and outside the Church. We are committed to continuing to walk on this path of justice and reconciliation.