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Fr Hans Zollner Fr Hans Zollner  (ANSA)

Fr Zollner: Do justice for victims of clerical sexual abuse

Fr Hans Zollner, SJ, President of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University, discusses the initial results he has observed since the Meeting on the “Protection of Minors in the Church”.

By Francesca Merlo

The Bishops who participated in the Meeting on the “Protection of Minors in the Church” at the end of February have “taken some initiatives”, says Fr Hans Zollner, SJ, President of the Centre for Child Protection in an interview with Vatican News’ Gudrun Sailer.

Some Bishops, he says, have revised their guidelines to find and implement ways of “cooperating with Civil Authorities”.

Fr Zollner explains that Presidents of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences are seeking the help of the Centre for Child Protection in the formation of Church personnel on the ground, after many of them were reduced to tears in hearing testimonies of survivors of child sexual abuse.

A message

In the three weeks since the end of the Meeting, Fr Zollner says that he has seen and heard the steps the Bishops are taking. They have not simply “communicated what happened during those three and a half days” of the Meeting, but are beginning to act. This, he says, is “the most important outcome that I could have hoped for”, because, he explains, it proves that the Presidents of Bishops' Conferences “received a message”.  

The message, he continues, is this: “Do everything you can to do justice to the victims. Listen to victims”, and do whatever you can to ensure that safeguarding is implemented “in your countries, in your dioceses and in your congregations”.

Listen to Gudrun Sailer's interview with Fr Zollner

The message has been received, and he adds that it has been “delivered back home”.

Voices and media

Fr Zollner talks about the importance of both the voices of the victims and the media. Thanks to them, “the topic of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has come to the surface and is now present all over the world”.

Now we know that it is on the agenda of discussion of Bishops’’ Conferences, of Dioceses, and of religious congregations. “Nobody can avoid this anymore”, he says.

The constant attention the issue is receiving from both Catholic and secualr media is helpful, he insists. Fr Zollner says it conveys clearly the message that “this topic is not something that will go away easily and fast”. Instead, he says, “it will stay with us and it will need much attention, over years and probably decades.”

This, according to Fr Zollner, means that the Catholic Church over time will develop common standards in how guidelines are written, how they are implemented, and how safeguarding education is taken forward.

A lack of empathy, of response

Fr Zollner reiterates the importance of hearing the voices of the victims. He explains that hearing their testimonies was “searing, it was brutal, it was absolutely devastating”. But it was not only what happened to them that was so awful. According to Fr Zollner, it was the lack of empathy, the lack of response, and the lack of clarity in the procedures in response to the cases of allegations that were presented by the victims, themselves, to the Bishops.

“You could hear a pin drop when the victims spoke,” says Fr Zollner. The emotional reactions and the energy “that is absolutely connected” to hearing the voices of the victims is crucial. These, Fr Zollner hopes, should “help to take up their points”, in terms of “rethinking the structure of the Church, rethinking accountability”, and, finally, “enforcing it.”

14 March 2019, 18:36