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Rome Reports

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Women are gaining ground in the fight against abuse in the Church


Listening to victims, accompaniment and prevention...women are spearheading the main departments tackling child abuse in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pa. Yet, this is not something only happening here. In other parts of the world, the abuse crisis has highlighted the value of women's contribution to the Church. 

Mimika Garesché has been leading spiritual activities and helping victims for years. At the beginning of 2019, the diocese of Pittsburgh named her director of the office for accompaniment.

MIMIKA GARESCHÉ
Director of the Office for Accompaniment

“Before this appointment, I knew them personally. I wasn't working with them officially. For some reason people reach out to me, and they'd share their stories with me. I'm also a spiritual director and people who have opened up in spiritual direction with me. It wasn't something official, where I was working. But yet, God has led me into this type of ministry and into getting to know these people and to walk with them.”

Her dealings with those who have suffered abuse in the Church has led her to discover something surprising.

MIMIKA GARESCHÉ,
Director of the Office for Accompaniment

“People who have faith after all that they've been through with abuse. That is a faith that is incredibly strong. I feel that what they have to say, the gift that they are bringing to the Church, is huge. Now we're looking for ways to renew the Church. These are the people who are going to help renew the Church. When we listen to what they need, and listen to the faith that they have. I have learned so much from these people.”

The archdiocese of Mexico, the most populous in the world, has had a new interdisciplinary victim response team for some months now. Two of the team's five members are women, psychologist Zaira Rosales and journalist Marilú Esponda.

MARILU ESPONDA
Attention to victims, Archdiocese of Mexico

"It is a way of recognizing that women have much to contribute in mitigating this problem. I would even go so far as to say that if this problem has not been addressed in the right way, it has been largely because there needed to be women in decision-making positions at the highest levels of the Church. Because women have an ability to focus on individuals and from there, to propose integral solutions."

Marilu Esponda asserts that in the face of this problem, a new mentality in the Church is emerging.

MARILOU ESPONDA
Attention to victims, Archdiocese of Mexico

"Before, the emphasis was not placed on helping the victims. It was on the clerics. This perhaps created a misunderstanding, a desire to protect the reputation of the Church and not let these bad examples harm the Church. To be defensive and not pay so much attention to the victim and not to peruse true justice.”

In Rome, the Center for Child Protection has become a key player in promoting child protection and reform policies. Among those who lead this organization are several women such as Alessandra Campo, coordinator for the center's network of collaborators. From there, she has seen a change.

ALESSANDRA CAMPO
Center for Child Protection

"I can say that I have seen, we have seen, a growing participation of female figures, both lay and religious, in the groups that carry out the online courses. Not only among the participants, let's say, among the students. Above all among those who lead the groups. Often a mixed team is formed, in which the male leader is accompanied by a female. Other times the leading figure in the group is female. This is a growing phenomenon.”

Alessandra Campo believes that there are circumstances in which the presence of women is decisive. 

ALESSANDRA CAMPO
Center for Child Protection

"It is clear that in certain contexts the presence of the feminine figure can be important. Especially where an encounter or personal dialogue is needed among the participants. It's not because women can necessarily do it better than men, but for example, if we have a victim abused by a man – which is unfortunately the majority, the most frequent - it is more likely that this person, especially if she is a woman, feels more comfortable talking to another woman.”

When it comes to caring for victims, the presence of a woman should never be underestimated.

ALESSANDRA CAMPO
Center for Child Protection

"Historically, the fact is that women have an experience of vulnerability. When we talk about minors or vulnerable people, women often fall into this category. Therefore, let us say that there is an awareness of historical experience that women carry with them, which facilitates the understanding of a victim's experience.”

They are still a minority in the structure of the Church. But perhaps this crisis will help appreciate the richness of women's contribution to the Church.