From May 20th to 21st 2019, seminars on the protection of minors in Russia began near Saratov, on the Volga. The Catholic diocese in Saratov covers a territory that can be compared to France plus Spain and Portugal plus Italy, but it has only about 22,000 Catholics. The bishop, Mons. Clemens Pickel, invited all priests and religious who work in his diocese, plus the local directors of Caritas (about 100 persons altogether, who come from about 20 different countries of origin). The seminar was lead by Fr. Andrej Kačmar from Košice in Slovakia, who did his studies in the CCP in Rome and is now the director of the Slovakian center for child protection, by Anna Sokolova, a psychologist working with Caritas in St. Petersburg, and by Fr. Stephan Lipke SJ from the St. Thomas Institute in Moscow. It was the first time that the clergy of this diocese directly worked on the issue of sexual abuse, so the topic was discussed broadly.
Generally speaking, abuse and violence is a crucial issue in Russia, where problems like the absence of clear personal relational boundaries, the over-sexualization of girls, alcoholism, broken families, etc. are present everywhere. Even outside of the question regarding abuse by clergy, the Church has to deal with the issue. It was striking that many participants wanted to talk to the speakers individually.
Generally speaking, this course was a very important experience both for the participants and the speakers. This was due also to the great contribution by Mons. Pickel, who is at present also the head of the Russian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Obviously, it also turned out that two days are not enough for this important issue. But there are certainly many participants who are interested in going deeper.
—Stephan Lipke SJ