24 May 2016, The Tablet

British minister praises work of Catholic congregations in conflict zones

Baroness Anelay was addressing religious orders during a trip to the Vatican

Catholic communities have a vital role to play in the struggle to end sexual violence in conflict, said a British Minister during a visit to Rome this week.

Speaking at the Vatican to religious men and women caring for survivors of sexual violence, the UK’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Baroness Joyce Anelay, praised the determination and commitment of Catholic congregations working in war zones, adding that they are frequently “the only ones on the ground during and long after the conflicts have ended”.

The British government, she told Vatican Radio, can support the work of religious communities, particularly in funding the collection of information about sexual attacks on women so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.

Faith groups are able to challenge the stigmatisation of survivors that leave them ostracised from their families and communities, by caring for the vulnerable and advocating on their behalf, said Baroness Anelay.

“Religious groups have the greatest sensitivity of all – they see people day to day at their most vulnerable,” she added.

“The Catholic Church may be small in numbers but it is tremendous in its reach and tremendous in the respect that it has around the world. Regardless of one’s faith, one respects the work of the Church,” concluded Anelay.

During her visit, the Baroness held private talks with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, and with Michel Roy, Secretary-General of Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s social action arm.

Since 2012 the British government has led a global initiative to prevent and respond to the problem of rape being used as a weapon of war. In 2014, a global summit in London brought together politicians, civil society and international organisations to agree a practical plan of action.

In 2015, faith leaders from different traditions gathered to discuss ways of challenging prejudice, supporting survivors and documenting evidence of crimes committed.

The Baroness cited as a success story the experience of Catholic, Anglican and Muslim leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), working together with local community chiefs to support survivors. DRC has previously been described by a UN official as ‘the rape capital of the world’.

Baroness Anelay describes in detail her visit to the Holy See in this week’s Tablet.

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