Towards Peace

Spiritual support for survivors of abuse by Catholic Church personnel in Ireland

What are the origins of Towards Peace?

As part of a two year listening process, survivors of abuse met with Catholic bishops to help them understand the holistic impact of abuse.  One of the things that survivors asked for was a service offering spiritual support.  Towards Peace was designed as a response to this request – that could be offered through the work of the whole Church, including support offered by lay people, religious sisters and brothers, and priests.

Towards Peace is one of three services that form the Catholic Church’s pastoral response to abuse in Ireland.

The other two services are: Towards Healing and the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Timeline of the development of Towards Peace

2009: The Irish Episcopal Conference sanctioned the Response to Survivors Initiative. It appointed four bishops, one from each province, to lead this initiative. They were the Bishop of Cork and Ross, the Bishop of Dromore, the Bishop of Ferns and the Bishop of Killala. 

2010: A Co-Coordinator of the initiative, a professional consultant, was appointed. The Co-Coordinator and the four bishops met with individual survivors as well as groups of survivors, and the Co-Coordinator had extensive phone and email contact with a wide range of individuals and groups.

2011: As a response to what the Initiative heard and learned in their conversations with survivors, the Irish Episcopal Conference sanctioned the publication of a document which was drafted by the Initiative, entitled: Towards Healing and Renewal. In addition to outlining the Conference’s ongoing commitment to supporting the work of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland and Towards Healing, Towards Healing and Renewal also outlined the Conference’s commitment to a new initiative to support survivors in their spiritual wellbeing.

Following the publication of the document, the four bishops and the Co-Coordinator met with a large number of individuals and groups of survivors to ascertain their reaction to the document. Some survivors were supportive of the idea of a spiritual support service, beginning with the option of one to one spiritual direction, with a lay, religious or clergy person; as long as it was developed in a way that learned from civil processes and that reached out to survivors who were estranged from Church.

A team of three people (a priest with a spiritual direction background, a Director of Safeguarding, and a religious sister with a counselling background) was put in place to further develop the idea of a spiritual support service for survivors of abuse by Church personnel in Ireland. The team consulted with CORI, Towards Healing, and individual survivors and survivor groups. The following is a summary of the many different themes, needs and hopes that they heard:

  • Some survivors wanted a service to support them as they re-connected to their spiritual core, even if they did not want to connect with the institutional Church.
  • Some survivors wanted a service to support them in their struggle with their faith.
  • Some survivors wanted a service to support their sense of belonging within the Church.
  • Some survivors particularly wanted a way to re-engage with their local parish.
  • Some survivors wanted spiritual support via retreats and related services.
  • Some survivors wanted a process of reconciliation with their faith lives in order to be able to experience the sacraments, especially in times of crisis.
  • Some parents and relatives of survivors wanted spiritual support.
  • For those survivors, parents and relatives of survivors who wanted spiritual support through one to one spiritual accompaniment, they wanted a choice between lay, religious or clergy spiritual companions.

2012: Sr. Mary Whyte, one of the team of three, was appointed as Coordinator of the spiritual support initiative, based at the Columba Centre in Maynooth, with support from the Centre in regards to finance, IT and administration.

Mary continued to work with the two others on the team, meeting with individual survivors and representative of survivor groups, as well as people providing support with and for survivors. The team began to put together a panel of spiritual companions, to offer spiritual support with and for survivors, through one to one spiritual accompaniment.

2013: The first Board meeting for the spiritual support service took place. The original Board was a mixture of clergy, religious and lay people, from Ireland. 

A name for the service was agreed: Towards Peace.

2014: Further meetings took place with survivors. An initial policy document was approved by the Board. The panel of spiritual companions received specialised training, which included trauma awareness input and hearing input from survivors. A Designated Person was appointed to take care of revelations of abuse. A clergy CORI representative and a lay woman counsellor and spiritual director from Northern Ireland joined the Board.

Towards Peace was launched in the South (Cork), in the West (Knock) and information sessions were held in Kildare and Leighlin and Ferns Dioceses.

Mrs. Una Allen and Mrs. Colleen Brown were appointed as Towards Peace part-time staff, as Director and Administration & Development Coordinator. A website for Towards Peace was developed.

2015: Towards Peace staff began to re-connect with the survivors and support providers with whom Mary had been in touch over her three years with the service. Three new lay Board members joined the Board of Towards Peace.

Sr. Mary Whyte moved on from Towards Peace, to new work at the request of her congregation.  Sr. Marianne O’Connor was elected Chair and Andrew Fagan was elected Vice Chair of the Towards Peace Board. 

Information sessions about Towards Peace were held Ossory, Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Down and Connor, Dromore, Dublin and Kilmore and Ossory Dioceses. 

The Towards Peace team (Board members, staff and spiritual companions) gathered for an inaugural Day of Prayer and Reflection about the service of Towards Peace. 

2016: The Board of Towards Peace published its Policies and Procedures.

Towards Peace began to recruit more spiritual companions, and Towards Peace supervisors for Towards Peace spiritual companions. 

Towards Peace staff, spiritual companions and Board members promoted the existence of Towards Peace within the Galway region.

The Towards Peace team (Board members, staff and spiritual companions) gathered for the annual Day of Prayer and Reflection about the service of Towards Peace. 

2017: Towards Peace staff, spiritual companions and Board members promoted the existence of Towards Peace within the region of Cork and Ross.

Marianne O’Connor finished four years of work with Towards Peace, including her time as Chair of the Board. 

Core Training, Module 1  – Working with Survivors of Trauma – Shattered Wholeness: The Spiritual Impact of Trauma – was offered to Towards Peace spiritual companions.

Core Training, Module 3 – Protocols, Policies & Procedures – Spiritual Accompaniment: Charism, Privilege, Responsibility – was offered to Towards Peace spiritual companions.

Towards Peace met with one of its funders, the Irish Episcopal Conference, to discuss an 18 month report about the service, and an organisational review of the service initiated by the Board.  Core training, Module 4 – Secondary Trauma and Self-care – Sustaining Wholeness: Holding suffering, seeking integration – was offered to Towards Peace spiritual companions.

The Towards Peace team (Board members, staff and spiritual companions) gathered for the annual Day of Prayer and Reflection about the service of Towards Peace.  Parishes throughout the island of Ireland helped to spread the word about Towards Peace, through an updated leaflet, poster, website, YouTube link, and resources for Christmas Masses and bulletins.

2018: Administration & Development Coordinator, Colleen Brown, finished work with Towards Peace. Una Allen now takes up newly defined  role as Coordinator of the service.

Core Training, Module 1  – Working with Survivors of Trauma – Shattered Wholeness: The Spiritual Impact of Trauma – was offered to Towards Peace spiritual companions.

Towards Peace begins its organisational restructuring.

Towards Peace works to ensure we are GDPR compliant when new data protection regulations are introduced throughout Europe this month.

Ms Breige O’Hare concludes here time as consultative member of the Board due to ongoing work commitments.

Towards Peace has a visible presence at the World Meeting of Families Pastoral Congress in the RDS as part of the IEC stand. AMRI also kindly agreed to carry information about the service on their stand.

As part of  ongoing organisational review of Towards Peace, an Oversight Committee comprising six members has been established to replace thirteen member Board which was dissolved on Aug 30th.

In conjunction with the IEC and AMRI, the Towards Peace Oversight Committee is tasked with conducting a review of the service and making recommendations as to its future. This work is to be completed by April 2019.

First meeting of Oversight Committee. Andrew Fagan elected as chairperson.  Coordinator Una Allen gives input to National Board of Safeguarding Training Day on Compassionate Response – A Theological Perspective

2019: Towards Peace is continually reviewing ways of engaging with survivors, other than the normal individual face to face contact, like providing a more holistic outreach, and how to better communicate our service to the wider community. Towards Peace welcomes Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” which firmly places the care of survivors at the centre of his papacy and affirms the importance of the availability of spiritual assistance.

The Coordinator attended the Anglophone Conference in Rome (July 1st- 6th). Her keynote address entitled Ministering to Survivors who wish to re- engage with their Faith was well received. The conference was attended by representatives from Bishops’ Conferences and Religious Congregations in the English speaking world. On her return Una was interviewed about her experience in Rome for the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference monthly Faithcast podcast. Faithcast is a mixture of interviews, news and stories of faith from the Catholic Church in Ireland. Click here for the interview 

2020: As part of the continual review of the service, Towards Peace is developing our digital media reach with an improved website and a new Facebook page.

The arrival of Covid-19 has affected all of our services. Like all other Councils and Initiatives funded by the IEC and AMRI the hours of Towards Peace have been reduced.  As we follow the Government guidelines in relation to the Corona virus we find that survivors have a preference for face-to-face contact for spiritual accompaniment rather than using the Zoom digital contact. Our plan for group facilitation has had to be put on hold for the moment.

IEC and AMRI have initiated a Strategic Review of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI), Towards Healing and Towards Peace.

 Our training has moved online for spiritual companions with a November programme entitled “Emerging with Hope in a Time of Pandemic

2021: Towards Peace made a submission to the Strategic Review Group.

The new website and the Facebook page are now fully functioning. Training was provided to spiritual companions on Zoom in March with the topic “The Role of the Survivor and Towards Peace”.

The Policy and Procedures were updated, approved and published online on the website in April.

A video on “How can (an understanding of) Pastoral Theology inform action to heal the spiritual damage caused by clerical sexual child abuse?” was produced by the Co-ordinator in May and is available on the NBSCCCI website with its transcript, and on the Vatican website.

A webinar on “How Spirituality can support Survivors in their Healing Journey” was delivered to the counsellors in Towards Healing in June.

ENDS