At the root of sexual abuse are abuses of power and conscience

Wednesday, February 14, 2024 - 15:56

Yesterday, the Aula Magna of the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences (FFCS) of the Portuguese Catholic University (UCP) - Braga hosted a workshop on abuses of power and conscience entitled "Overcoming the Tip of the Iceberg: Abuses of Power and Conscience".

Both the guest speaker, Professor Lanire Angulo Ordorika, and Father Bruno Nobre, spiritual assistant to the Commission for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults of the Archdiocese of Braga (CPMAVAB), warned that abuses of power and conscience are at the root of sexual abuse.

The session was attended by 80 people, plus around two dozen online participants. Among the participants were students, teachers, researchers, religious and priests.

The workshop was also attended by José Cordeiro, Metropolitan Archbishop of Braga, who was there "just to listen"; Father José Lopes, director of the FFCS at the Catholic University of Braga; and Paula Rodrigues, head of CPMAVAB.

Speaking to Diário do Minho, the professor of theology at the Faculty of Theology at Loyola University in Granada, Spain, began by presenting an image of the iceberg that sank the Titanic, to show that the main danger is not what is visible, but what is hidden. He acknowledged that the Church is going through a complex time, but he also admitted that this crisis, which has alarmed the Church, is being used as an opportunity for reflection and a change of mentality and attitude.

"This is an opportunity for reflection and growth," said the sister, reaffirming that we need to put the victims at the center of our concerns, value their complaints and not stifle them. Their pain must also be understood because it does not expire.

The teacher warned of the close relationship between sexual abuse and power. "Those who can abuse, not those who want to". She described power as the ability to influence other people. "Power empowers for good and for evil. And power has many faces: abuse of authority, abuse of conscience; economic, spiritual and labor power, among others.

"The iceberg is sexual abuse, but the mass of other powers is much greater. Abuse is not just sexual. Power is a big umbrella that expresses itself in different ways. Labor, economic or spiritual. They are different faces, but they are part of the same unhealthy dynamic," he warned.

For his part, Father Bruno Nobre also corroborated Sister Lanire Angulo Ordorika's idea, warning of abuses by other powers. "The Commission is very committed to training and to the prevention of sexual abuse in the context of the Church, in the various communities, parishes and institutions," he began, adding: "We know that sexual abuse doesn't come out of nowhere. It has a culture of abuse of power and conscience behind it. So sexual abuse is the tip of the iceberg. Behind this phenomenon, there is another kind of power and abuse of conscience. In fact, Pope Francis has often emphasized that abuses of power and of conscience should be considered together like sexual abuse. Here, the aim is to train for prevention with regard to abuses of conscience and power. Sexual abuse is often based on abuses of power and conscience. In other words, sexual abuse should not be separated from abuses of power and conscience. Obviously they are not exactly identical, but at the root of sexual abuse are abuses of power and conscience," said the Jesuit priest.