“Cover-ups and denial are still too prevalent in the Church” Fr Hans Zollner SJ, Member of Pontifical Commission for the protection of Minors, With 0 Comments, Category: Church News, Church Reform, Latest News, Pope Francis, Sex abuse cover up,
Battle against clerical sexual abuse has long way to go
Recently the Diocese of Regensburg called in an independent lawyer to investigate abuse
Fr Hans Zollner SJ. (Photo: Andreas Dueren/CNA)
The head of a highly touted global initiative for preventing the sexual abuse of minors says there is still a long ways to go before children and young people will be properly safeguarded in the Catholic Church.
Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, who is president of the Center for Child Protection (CCP) at the Gregorian University that his religious order oversees in Rome, says cover-ups and denial are still too prevalent in the Church.
The 49-year-old priest offered a candid assessment of the situation in two long interviews printed in the German weekly Die Zeit (Feb. 4) and the fortnightlyPublik Forum (Jan. 20)
“Six years after the sexual abuse crisis in Germany, four years after the abuse scandals in Boston, 20 years after those in Ireland and 30 years after the ones in Australia and Canada emerged, I am still facing the same patterns of cover-up, denial, avoidance, counterattack and mawkish sentimentality,” said Fr Zollner, who serves as Gregorian’s vice-rector and is a professor of psychotherapy and psychology.
“Victims still have to wait for years for the results of church trials and there is still no clear legal procedure for holding to account bishops and heads of orders who fail to report or investigate clerical sexual abuse”, he lamented.
Fr Zollner has been president of the CCP since the Gregorian University and the Archdiocese of Munich spearheaded its foundation in 2012. He is also one of seventeen people who are members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection Minors, a body that Pope Francis established in March 2014 and is headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley OFM of Boston.
The Jesuit priest said the Church must show genuine repentance for clerical sexual abuse of minors. He stressed that it must really want justice for the victims and comprehensive prevention. It must not regard abuse merely as a tiresome problem that one can tick off as soon as it is no longer in the public eye, he insisted.
According to Fr Zollner the reason the Church has found it so difficult to face the abuse problem is because it is hard to admit how much suffering that church representatives, of all people, could have caused the youngest and most vulnerable of its members. He lamented that it’s still regarded essential to preserve an “unblemished” image of the Church.
“That is why resistance to investigation is so strong and cowardice is so great,” Zollner said.
Unfortunately, the opposition to change and to criticism of church members is still typical, he pointed out. And he complained that the there is still a typical mindset in the Church that says, “We will solve this internally since only we can really understand it."
Fr Zollner said he believes such attitudes have been responsible for making the Church, not only a risk area, but also a positive danger zone. He insisted this has been the root of many and very serious problems.
He underlined that the situation differs widely in various parts of the world. In Korea, for example, sexual abuse is a taboo, while the Church in Eastern Europe is often of the opinion that clerical sexual abuse only occurs in the “decadent, liberal Church in the West.”
Their line is that, persecuted by the communists, most of our priests were heroes. “If one of them had abused minors the secret police would have found out and investigated,” is the reasoning.
However, Fr Zollner said the Polish bishops were divided on the subject. Many of the older ones still want to protect the Church’s image from being damaged, while the younger bishops are more in favor of investigating abuse.
The CCP head noted that in southern Europe clerical sexual abuse still is too often shrouded by omertà – the code of silence.
He told how some priests from southern Italy visited him not long ago and told how they had discovered one of their fellow priests was abusing minors. When they informed their bishop, he reprimanded them and forbade them from talking about the problem. But they had decided to go to the police anyway. The first question the officers had asked them was, “What does your bishop say?”
Fr Zollner said the case illustrates how difficult investigating abuse is when the Church and the police work together.
He pointed to recent developments in his home Diocese of Regensburg, where the Church called in an independent lawyer to investigate abuse at the famous Domspatzen choir, calling this, “good news.”
“However agonizing the report is for the victims, and however bitter for the present diocesan authorities, at last something is changing,” he said.
While lamenting that the change has come “years and entire decades” too late, he said it is a good thing that everything that happened is now coming to light.
Fr Zollner stressed that the “deepest abysm”, as far as clerical sexual abuse is concerned, are the “devastating” prospects for perpetrators.
“Even after therapy, the recurrence rate is high,” he pointed out.
“U.S. theologian and psychiatrist, Mgr Stephen Rossetti, the pioneer among US therapists, says it means attending group therapy meetings week after week for ten years and being unreservedly open – just as Alcoholics Anonymous prescribe. Only then is there a hope that the perpetrator will not relapse,” he said.
The German Jesuit stated his regret that the CCP gets hardly any support from theologians.
“There are so many urgent theological questions that need explaining, like the ecclesiological significance of clerical abuse,” he said.
“What does it signify for the Church’s self-image, for instance? What is the significance of a priest, a ‘man of God’, who administers the Sacraments but is at the same time a perpetrator?”
He said, “Bishops are quick to pass such questions on to psychologists and canon lawyers but that is not enough.”