March 10, 2021

The Catholic Project at Catholic University, in partnership with The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and the Papal Commission on the Protection of Minors, will convene public health professionals, religious leaders, and abuse survivors from across the world for a free, public, interfaith symposium to improve the health and spiritual wellbeing of victims of childhood sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation. The symposium will take place April 8-10, 2021, during National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

"From a public health perspective, religious leaders are increasingly seen as a powerful force for shaping behaviors and perceptions," said Jennifer Wortham, research associate at the Human Flourishing Program, and executive director of the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality, "but not all religious leaders are prepared to support the complex psychosocial needs of this vulnerable population. Without effective training, tools, and resources these efforts run the risk of doing more harm than good."

"Spiritual and physical healing go hand in hand," said Cardinal Seán O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. "That is why all religious leaders, child welfare advocates and health professionals must not only seek the best training, but be accountable for building interdisciplinary bridges to address the global crisis of child sexual abuse together."

Stephen White from The Catholic Project noted, "For all that the Church has gotten wrong in its handling of sexual abuse, there are some things the Church has gotten right. This symposium provides an opportunity for religious leaders and public health experts to share what each has learned about both preventing abuse and bringing healing for those who have been harmed."

Child sexual abuse is a serious public health problem with significant adverse impacts to the health and wellbeing of those who have been victimized. One in four girls and one in 13 boys experience sexual abuse as a child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The event, “Faith and Flourishing: Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse,” addresses:

  • the prevalence of child sexual abuse and its effect on the mind and body
  • its impact on one's relationship with their faith and with others
  • effective strategies for prevention of sexual violence against children
  • how to care and advocate for survivors

The aim is to increase the capacity of policy makers, health care professionals, and religious and spiritual leaders to implement effective child sexual abuse prevention and healing programs in their communities. A list of speakers, partners, and more can be found on the symposium website.

Additionally, this event will promote the ongoing effort to establish April 8th as a World Day for Prevention and Healing from Child Sexual Abuse. Members of the media, health care professionals and religious leaders are all invited to recognize this day and register for this landmark conference, which is free and open to the public.