A member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Fr Hans Zollner SJ, is the keynote speaker at a forthcoming national conference organised by the monastic community at Ealing Abbey, entitled ‘Growing in Connectedness: Healing the History of Child Sexual Abuse.’ The conference, on October 21st 2018, aims to “provide a space to connect and share learning from both those dealing with the aftermath of child sexual abuse as well as safeguarding professionals, in order to prevent, stop and take responsibility for child abuse within our schools and churches.”
Other conference speakers include Lea Misan, the founder of a charity which works with young people and their families affected by trauma, author Oluwafemi Hughes who writes about the experience of abuse within institutions of care and psychotherapist Milan Bijelic who also works with trauma victims and in post-war reconciliation.
One of the conference organisers, Ealing Abbey monk, Dom James Leachman OSB, explained the thinking behind the event: “It came to us as an idea, because nobody else was doing it! Why has nobody else done it? There’s been a lot of talking and apologies, but this is about actually trying to do something. We need to put survivors first.” The conference aims to be as broad as possible and is hoping to attract educators in schools, institutes, universities & seminaries and practitioners in new and traditional monastic communities as well as health and mental care professionals, psychotherapists and community activists.
Fr James, who is himself currently training as a psychotherapist, acknowledges the gathering is particularly relevant due to the pain that has been experienced in Ealing. Last year the former Abbot, Andrew Soper, was jailed for 18 years. He had fled to Kosovo in a bid to avoid prosecution: “We can’t change history, but might learn to change the future” said Fr James. “I don’t know what the conference will actually achieve. But it’s giving a bit of an ‘edge’ - it’s doing something for the first time and then the hope is that it will ripple out.”
In addition, as a new initiative, Ealing Abbey is introducing a low cost counselling service - ‘London Spring.’ The title is inspired by a freshwater spring which is hidden beneath the cellar of a large and underused house within the Abbey grounds, where the counselling will take place. The spring flows under the property continually and is automatically drained, by a pump, when the water reaches a certain level. In a symbol of change and moving forward, there are plans to divert the flow of the underground spring out into the gardens, where the babbling stream will in future be enjoyed by all.
Fr James hopes that the counselling service, too, will be a step into the future. Rooms are being made available for groups and for individual sessions and there will also be placements on offer for student therapists, with supervision. There’s a focus on transparency and community involvement. The monks are inviting feedback on the name “London Spring” and have created a survey: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/H9PMPMK to canvass public opinion around whether the project will be a good service to the wider community. “So far in 2017 and 2018 we have looked at experiences of social isolation and fragmentation in the culture of the London we love. Together we have lots of contacts with people of faith, no faith and with social activists.”
Fr James wants the support to be available “for victims of all kinds of abuse and discrimination..…In 2017 we began by focussing on the sources of wisdom in different religious traditions. Our activities translate Catholic and Benedictine values into language and expressions more accessible to post Christian generations.” The aspiration, he says, is that the new initiative will “help Ealing Abbey community be more restorative for the past in its core mission.”
CONFERENCE DETAILS: https://ealingmonks.org.uk/connectedness/