Archbishop Eamon Martin, in his opening address at the annual conference of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, spoke on the risk of abuse to vulnerable children in Ireland and abroad.
Highlighting Pope Francis’ encouragement for greater involvement in works of mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Archbishop Martin said to the 220 delegates present at the conference: “I see the work of safeguarding as a prophetic work of mercy in the Church today.”
He continued: “This time last year I had the privilege of being present with Pope Francis at the Synod on the Family. Delegates from all over the world shared with us their experiences of real threats to children and the vulnerable. We heard about dangers to children due to forced migration of families, and about young people getting caught up in international networks of human trafficking. Other delegates spoke to us of the exploitation of children in prostitution or as cheap labour, as child soldiers or for organ trafficking.
“We have seen for ourselves shocking scenes of little children being handed from choppy waters into the arms of rescuers, or washed up like discarded dolls on the seashore. I found it very disturbing during the summer to read that more than 600 unaccompanied children wander around the Calais refugee camp, clearly in a situation of great risk.”
Archbishop Martin also noted that these risks are not always far away: “We have learned to our shame that abuse of young people too often occurs in the very places where one might have thought they would be most safe and cared for, including, sadly, in their homes, schools, and parish communities.
“Let us remain alert to potential risk situations here in Ireland with our increased rates of homelessness, forced home repossessions and alarming levels of violence in the home. We cannot ignore the bleak solution for children and their parents who are spending long periods in direct provision centres for asylum seekers in this country. Consider also the new challenges presented by social media, easily accessible pornography on the internet and the vulnerability of young people to those who would entrap or deceive them.”
He concluded, saying, “Let no one say the work of safeguarding is done. It remains an essential outreach of mercy towards the marginalised, the neglected and those most at risk. You are at the vanguard of this important work of mercy, witnessing prophetically from within the Church to the need for society always to be on the alert for danger and exploitation.”
The two-day conference was held in Tullamore, Co Offaly, and was attended by 220 delegates from throughout Ireland, North and South, and included bishops, priests, members of religious congregations, safeguarding liaison personnel and voluntary parish representatives.