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Dr. Ruffini: Sexual violence is 'destruction of humanity'

Speaking at a panel discussion on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication, says "We are all involved ... We cannot say 'I wasn't there, I didn't know'".

By Joseph Tulloch

Dr. Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, addressed a symposium on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence on Friday.

At the panel discussion, which was jointly organised by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations and the British Embassy to the Holy See, the Prefect emphasised the magnitude of the problem, and offered a personal reflection on how to respond to such evil.

Sexual violence and 'the destruction of humanity'

Dr Ruffini began by stressing the scale of the problem of conflict-related sexual violence, which, he said, “has become a weapon for the destruction of humanity.”

The UN, the Prefect noted, logged 3,293 incidents of such violence in 2021. Moreover, such cases are severely underreported – the UN estimates that, for each case it records, another 10 to 20 go unrecorded– and so the real number is far higher, likely somewhere between 35,000 and 70,000. 

The NGO Gynécologie Sans Frontières, meanwhile, Dr Ruffini said, reports that most female migrant and refugee arriving in Europe have experienced sexual violence. 

Meeting with victims of sexual violence in DRC

Next, Dr Ruffini turned to consider the Pope’s meeting with victims of conflict-related sexual violence during his recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He dwelt in particular on the testimony of two women, Mukumbi Kamala and Emelda M'karhungulu, quoting at length their words to the Pope in their meeting with him. Their descriptions of the violence they underwent, he said, “still resonate in my heart.”

Faced with such terrible realities, Dr Ruffini suggested, the only appropriate response is the one given by the Pope, following his meeting with the abuse survivors: “Listen to the cry of their blood (cf. Gen 4:10), open your ears to the voice of God, who calls you to conversion, and to the voice of your conscience … no to violence, always and everywhere, with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ ”.

Martin Buber and “Where are we?”

Another theme of the Prefect’s address was the work of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.

It is natural, he said, when faced with evils in the world, to ask ourselves “Where is God in all this?”. We should, however, he stressed, also ask ourselvesas Buber says, “Where are we?”

This is the question God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden, Buber writes, and, like Adam, we hide ourselves. We ignore the horrific realities in the world around us, or accept them as inevitable. But this can never be an acceptable response, Dr Ruffini emphasised, because “We are all involved … We live in a time when we cannot say, “I was not there, I did not know.”

Thus, the Prefect concluded, it is essential that we become individuals “who know how to see evil, who know how to distinguish it, who know how to denounce it, to take it on and transform it with the force of goodness.”

The role of faith actors

In remarks made at the beginning of the discussion, Chris Trott, the UK Ambassador to the Holy See, stressed the “crucial" role that faith leaders can play in combatting sexual violence. 

Firstly, Ambassador Trott said, they can “dismantle the harmful misinterpretations of religious texts used to justify sexual violence in conflict.”

Secondly, “they, more than politicians, can speak to people’s consciences in demanding an end to conflict-related sexual violence, as well as to the stigma too often faced by survivors and their children.” 

In this regard, the Ambassador highlighted the role played recently by Pope Francis, saying that his statements condemning sexual violence during his recent visit to the DRC were "incredibly powerful."

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24 March 2023, 19:24