Bridging gap of academics, pastoral ministry

By  Lea Karen Kivi, Catholic Register Special
  • March 1, 2024

“I am here not to fight the Church — I am here to fight for a better Church,” says Professor Mariéle Wulf about her role as director of the Centre for Safeguarding Minors and Vulnerable Persons (CPCS) at Saint. Paul University in Ottawa.

Still in the first year of her three-year mandate, Wulf, who characterizes herself as “Catholic down to the marrow,” was a professor of moral theology and Christian ethics in the Netherlands and ran a pastoral counseling practice in Switzerland before joining CPCS as its director. In her practice, she counseled victim-survivors of sexual abuse that took place mainly in families, including a few who had experienced clergy sexual abuse.

Wulf believes her background in long-term accompaniment of victim-survivors will help in her role at CPCS to look at what has to be offered to support them and to train Church leaders on what really happens to victim-survivors and the dimensions of their abuse, including psychological and spiritual aspects. She hopes to be a bridge from academic discussions of such topics to practical applications of ideas in ministry with a victim-centred approach.

One example Wulf provided of adopting such an approach is to have easily accessible information on Church webpages. Having to follow several links to get information on how to make a complaint constitutes a barrier to traumatized individuals. She adds that bare text is not very effective in providing information, but providing photos/videos of persons whom victim-survivors may contact to help provide a more welcoming environment to those coming forward.

During her mandate at CPCS, Wulf would like to build a strong international network and provide concrete solutions in caring for victim-survivors. She hopes to raise awareness of what victim-survivors need, including providing psychotherapy and accompaniment (for example, when they go to court), and to evaluate Church processes to see how they can be improved. She hopes to work with Canadian bishops and other leaders as a consultant for their safeguarding practices and to provide training on sensitivity of vulnerable persons. Longer term, she would like to build a research school through CPCS.

CPCS offers two microprograms on safeguarding: an undergraduate and graduate program on the protection of minors and vulnerable persons. In addition, the centre offers online and in-person safeguarding workshops, seminars and conferences which Wulf states would be of interest to those interested in safeguarding any environment, including schools and other workplaces. She hopes to include additional topics such as dealing with vulnerable adults when it comes to MAiD and end-of-life care.

“When victims feel understood and seen,” according to Wulf, “that’s healing.” One reason she would like to train bishops is that an apology offered can seem superficial when the person who apologizes doesn’t truly understand what victims have been through.

With only herself and an assistant, the centre is not in a position by itself to provide counseling or legal advice, but Wulf is working on building a network of therapists, canon and civil lawyers to whom the centre can refer victim-survivors. The centre does provide a mobile number, though, for urgent cases, in case a victim-survivor needs help. Their capacity to deal with single victims is limited, but if someone reaches out, according to Wulf, she takes time to talk as she follows the principle: “People before science.”

She hopes that an upcoming conference will give more publicity to CPCS and thereby help people become more aware of safeguarding issues. The conference, “Save Our Souls! Psychological, Ideological and Spiritual Safeguarding” is to be held May 13-17 and is open to persons of all faiths.

One of the keynote speakers will be Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, chair of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee for protection of minors and vulnerable adults, who has expressed appreciation for what Wulf’s experience brings to her role.

Despite having journeyed with many wounded souls, and realizing the magnitude of the work needed to be done to safeguard the faithful and accompany victim-survivors of abuse within Church settings, Wulf’s faith in the Church remains unshaken, declaring: “What we have to give the world is redemption — Jesus Christ. He doesn’t stand for abuse, but redemption — He is nothing but selfless love and that’s what we should seek to be.”

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