t our Annual Plenary sitting in Mariannhill, Kwa Zulu Natal, from 30 July to 6 August, we, the Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa deliberated on a number of key issues affecting the life of both the local and the universal church, centered on the safeguarding and protection of children and the vulnerable adults, domestic violence and the current state of our nations – (Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland).
What the local Church needs to do about safeguarding and protection of children was based on the fruit of the February 2019 Summit called by Pope Francis, namely his Motu Proprio (special instruction) Vos estis lux mundi (You are the light of the world). This reflection was led by Fr Hans Zollner SJ, a world recognized authority on what the Church at every level needs to do to deal with the child abuse crisis, and more especially what we must do to prevent this from happening in the first instance.
What is of particular interest is that Pope Francis’s main focus is what Bishops are obliged to do in their Dioceses on a day to day basis to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are safe from the scourge of abuse.
We, Bishops, will enhance structures for reporting any cases of abuse; and we commit to accompany victims in their healing process, and especially bring perpetrators to account. ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi’ has set out specific new norms which give clear guidance to the Bishops in working with the cases of abuse in the local Church.
We have also resolved to send suitably disposed people to do special studies on the safeguarding and protection of children and vulnerable adults, so that the problem of abuse is not only addressed more fully and professionally, but also prevented from happening.
We are also concerned with the escalating violence in society, the almost universal “service delivery” protests which are the source of the growing culture of destruction of property.
Clearly this is a project that extends right down into the family. Sadly that is where much violence is taking place. So, it has to be the place where we focus of our fight against the culture of violence, which is destroying us as a people.
In particular we commit ourselves to making a special effort to make the safety of women a major priority in the Catholic Church.
We urge all, starting with our leaders, to cultivate a culture of respect for life and limb, a culture of responsibility towards the weaker ones in society, and accountability for how we are keeping our brothers and sisters.
We urge especially our political leaders to live up to the expectations, hopes and aspirations of those who voted them into positions of service and responsibility by doing their duties faithfully and as a sign of their patriotism.
As Bishops, we also align ourselves with the analysis of concerns voiced by Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, Catholic Bishops’ President, in his address as he urged us not to focus on addressing the symptoms of the problems, but instead to identify and deal with the root causes. One of these is the tendency to put our politicians on a pedestal, from which they dictate what is good for us, rather than listen to what we their fellow citizens are highlighting as the most urgent needs.
We also identify with him in his statement that it is wrong for us Church Leaders to retreat to our sacristies, especially at this time when our people need us to be engaging actively with our political leaders. We certainly need to do more than just issue occasional statements no matter how important those might be. Rather we need to be fully engaged in walking with the people as we did in the past during the apartheid regime.
We are aware of the damage done to the economy by state capture, and especially how difficult it will be to get the economy back on track. For that reason we affirm our support for the different institutions which are key to turning things around; therefore, we urge all South Africans to hold hands together and work selflessly to restore basic trust and confidence needed to lift our country back onto the path to growth.
We once more urge all to root out any form of corruption which is tainting the image of our infant democracy.
As the Catholic Bishops we renew our commitment to engage fully in building a better society and restore the image of the Church so severely tainted by the abuse scandals.