Valeska Ferrer: "The call in the face of abuse is to break the silence".

Delving into the causes of the abuse of power in the Church has been the task of more than three hundred people - in person and online - from 27 countries, who have participated in Madrid in the Jordan International Congress of the Spanish Province of the Society of Jesus and Jesuit Universities (UNIJES). Valeska Ferrer, its coordinator, talks to Omnes about the abuses.

Francisco Otamendi-June 20, 2024-Reading time: 6 minutes
Valeska Ferrer

Valeska Ferrer, coordinator of the Jordán research project of the Society of Jesus-Spain Province

Convened by the Jordan projectDuring the past few days, international experts have reflected on numerous questions on the theme "Abuse of power in the Church: structural causes and possible solutions from the dialogue between theology and other disciplines. The research has referred to the different types of abuse of power in the Church. abuseThe power, spiritual and sexual, within the ecclesiastical sphere.

The closing ceremony was presided over by the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal José CoboThe Archbishop announced that the Archdiocese of Madrid will host a meeting of reparation and prayer with victims of sexual abuse within the Church, which will take place at the beginning of next year in Madrid.

The president of the organizing committee of the congress, Valeska Ferrer, holds a PhD in Canon Law from the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, and is the coordinator of the Jordan research project of the Society of Jesus-Province of Spain. In the interview with Omnes, Valeska Ferrer comments on some of the work of the congress.

You point out that there are power relationships and ways of proceeding in ecclesial structures that favor abuses. Can you explain this a little?

- The idea was rather to conceptualize abuse of power as something that affects many things. The PapaIn the two letters, both in the letter to the People of God and to the People of God walking in Chile, he introduced a triad, but they were different in each of the letters. The abuse of power appears in both.

This is what we have been outlining: abuse of power is everything. We all have power over other people, fruit of asymmetrical relationships, and this exercise of power, when it is exercised badly..... I think that Gabino's [Uríbarri] presentation was spectacular, what is the power that Jesus exercises, the power of God is power that generates life, that is creative, and at the same time is capable of withdrawing when it is not necessary, when other people are the ones who in some way exercise this power of creation, of co-creation.

This power, if we misuse it, can affect different areas depending on the sphere in which we somehow affect. If we influence in the area of decision making of concrete acts we are in the abuse of authority; if it is only in the area of decisions we would be in the abuse of conscience; if we make reference and it is an incidence in the corporeality it is a sexual abuse. And I believe that perhaps the most serious thing is when the incidence of this abuse is in the most intimate area of the person, where he/she is built as a believer, image of God, it would be when we talk about spiritual abuse.

On the first day, they worked on the concept of power...

- Yes, these years of work have been progressively formulating how the abuse of power is, and from there, different tentacles that reach different areas or dimensions of the person. The first day we wanted to focus on this, what is power, because the word "dynamis" appears constantly in the Gospels, the power, the authority of God, of Jesus.

It was important to start from the power it has, in a positive way, to then introduce what happens when it is abused at the spiritual level, which is the constitution as a believer. In this sense, the presentation of Maria Dolores Lopez Guzman was also extraordinary, on how to present the damage that is generated, and how to break, and the need to break the silence so as not to deconstruct the person and the image of God: "You shall not take the name of God in vain", she presented.

They have also analyzed some aspects of the structures in the Church that have facilitated abuse, they say.

- I think there are two different things here. One is at the theological level, which is the presentation of Diego [Molina], a Jesuit, who is also a member of the Jordan project team. He gathered a series of elements, such as the self-awareness of the Church as holy, what we mean when we speak of the Church as holy. It does not mean that she is not sinful. When we make the confession of the Creed, one, holy, apostolic... This reference to the holiness of the Church was a question that came up in the audience: should we then remove the expression that the Church is holy? And he said: man, no, it is not that, it is constituted by people, by sinners, but we are called to that holiness, that is where we are walking towards.

Many times the clergy has been assumed to represent Christ, as if there could be no faults in him; it is the idealization of the clergy.

What elements have you detected that have a clear impact on abuse?

- More at the canonical theological level, there are elements that we have been detecting that clearly influence abuse: silence and fear of reprisals.

This has been recorded in the questionnaire that we carried out in the Province, to the whole Society, from which we received 1,188 responses, which is a lot for a first questionnaire, which has been passed on to all sectors: education, universities, faith and social, the four sectors.

And what we have detected, which is in line with other social contexts, is that silence, keeping quiet and not breaking the silence for fear of reprisals, is something we share with the whole society. The problem of abuse is maintained by silence, by the fear of what might happen if I denounce something that has happened to me, or if I denounce what I know has happened to someone else.

And to break the silence?

- This was reflected in the presentation by John Guiney, sj, and Sandra Racionero also closed the final conference. We must break the silence; and break the silence by supporting the people who break the silence.

You cannot break the silence if you do not know that they will support you. If you know that they will support you and they will support the people who support you, then it is easier to break the silence; but if I belong to a community of religious life and I know that if I denounce my superior they will label me as being out of my mind, that my vocation is not clear, they will remove me from any position I may have had or from the school where I was teaching, and they will put me in the porter's lodge.... If I know that all this is going to happen if I say something, then I do not say it, but if I know that if I denounce, not only will the Superior General or the Superior General support me, but also the community will support me, then I do denounce, but if not, it is very difficult.

What is the call made by Congress?

- The call is to break the silence and for the institution to support those who break the silence; this is a call to the victims, but also logically to the institution. We can only break the silence if we feel supported. And also in the families, because they are told: you are going to stigmatize the girl..., shut up. The truth is that if it is not reported, it is covered up. And the aggressor continues to attack, because he or she goes unpunished.

We must always encourage talking, not for nothing but because the sooner it is confronted, and this is also one of the things that is researched, that is, when an abuse is cut early, and measures are taken quickly, it is more likely that the damage and trauma are more limited in time and can become a survivor sooner.

But if you maintain an abuse for 40 years, which is what we see in most cases, when the trauma has been sustained for so long, the damage generated is brutal, because you live with different psychological problems, a dissociative disorder, stress, anxiety....

Let's finish. You have also spoken of good practices, of hopeful proposals.

- The two elements that we have wanted to work on in the project over the years have been, on the one hand, those known as successful performances. That is why it was José Ramón Flecha and Sandra Racionero who somehow made these presentations of successful actions with social impact. That is to say, tools that have been proven to work, and that are capable of transforming reality, that have really been able to reduce abusive dynamics in educational environments in the classroom, and how this can somehow have an impact on the ecclesiastical sphere, in everything that has to do with abusive dynamics.

And the second element?

- On the other hand, there is the issue of restorative justice, which is true that it is not something that is for everyone: not all victims who have participated, not all perpetrators want to participate, but it is true that the experiences that are taking place when they participate are very positive and there are successful experiences that are also transforming the lives of both victims and perpetrators.

To see people who have sexually assaulted, who have acknowledged the facts, who have taken responsibility, who should never have done it, and the desire and the commitment to repair the damage they have committed, I think it is one of the most relevant experiences. To listen to a victimizer sunk in misery, touching his own mud, being able to listen to the voice of God and to start again from the lowest humility, I believe that this is like a small miracle, and to me this also seems to be our call. The possibility that the one who assaulted not only never does it again, but can even work in favor of the victims...; I do not know if this is to be published or not, because it is difficult.

We conclude our conversation with Valeska Ferrer. The Provincial of the Society of Jesus, Enric Puiggròs SJ, pointed out that "the victims evangelize us; we cannot expect this to 'go away', to fade away as if nothing had happened; we must look in the face of what we did wrong", and "overcome the temptation of arrogance, claiming the good things done by us, as if they could somehow compensate for this drama of abuses".

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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