Vatican goes online in struggle against child abuse

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01 July 2011

By Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere (AFP)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is turning to the Internet in its struggle against child abuse with a new website allowing clergy around the world to share information on eradicating the problem.

A key figure behind the initiative is German psychologist priest Hans Zollner from the Vatican’s Gregorian University, who spoke to AFP about the need for fundamental changes in how the Catholic Church handles abuse cases.

“Bishops have to give priority to victims,” said Zollner, a member of the order of Jesuits, often seen as intellectuals inside the Church.

“People working inside dioceses and religious orders should be taught to listen to them. All complaints have to be taken seriously,” he said.

Zollner’s university will host a conference next February at which the new e-learning centre is expected to be launched, with some 200 experts, diocesan officials and representatives of congregations attending.

It will be “a step … on a long and painful path,” Zollner said, adding the website would bring together the latest research on child abuse and Church laws, while allowing churches in different countries to have their say.

The website will be in five languages — English, French, German, Italian and Spanish — and the project is funded to last three years.

The Church is struggling to deal with rising anger and a string of lawsuits following thousands of abuse claims in Europe and the United States.

But many in the Church are concerned that the cases uncovered so far may only be the tip of the iceberg since abuses in much of the developing world — including in Africa and Latin America — have so far received little attention.

Pope Benedict XVI’s ever stronger denunciations of abuse are bringing some changes, however, and national bishops conferences around the world are set to come up with common guidelines against paedophiles by May 2012.

Zollner explained the process is slow and complex because of wide variations in national laws and the need for international coordination.

“The general sensitivity to the problem has clearly increased,” he said.

“But the Church is not a monolithic block. Sensitivities are very different. A critical point appears to have been reached,” he added.

“Many bishops are now saying: ‘We have to act’. There needs to be a more consistent and coordinated response as wanted by the Holy Father.”

The common agreement in the Church is that those responsible “must receive their punishment according to Church law and criminal law,” he said.

Among the changes Zollner has been working on, is stricter psychological tests for would-be priests to identify possible abusers.

The e-learning centre will make use of research from the child and adolescent psychiatry department at Ulm university in Germany, he said.

Abuse victims groups have accused the Vatican of failing to take the problem of paedophilia seriously early on, of not cooperating with police and allowing priests and bishops who covered up for abusers to go unpunished.

“For almost all victims, the most important thing is to be heard by a representative of the institution whose members have hurt them,” Zollner said.

Victims “should have the chance to express all their pain, anger, depression and fears to an official representative of the Church,” he added.

“The pope’s stance is there should no longer be priests who are protected and moved along. The Church must no longer give the impression it is shielding the perpetrators as it has often been seen as doing in the past,” he said.

The Jesuit father added: “It makes the victims suffer a second time.”

3 Responses to Vatican goes online in struggle against child abuse

  1. Sylvia says:

    I just get tired of it. “The general sensitivity to the problem has increased.”

    “Many bishops are now saying: ‘We have to act.'”

    Only NOW are they considering stricter psyhcholigical testing?!!!

    Only NOW???!!!!

    I fear this is more circling the wagons. More window dressing to soothe the troubled masses. I am waiting for word that ‘the Vatican’ is seriously contemplating purging the priesthood of all known clerical predators. Then, and only then, will I will believe ‘they’ are serious.

    I must add here that I am not adverse to “the Church” providing lodgings, but not employ or vounteer work, to those who are laicized. And, if ‘they’ want to monitor those who are laicized, carry on. If this is what is preventing defrocking those who have proven themselves unfit to be be priests then I would reluctantly but willingly settle for that. Perhaps every diocese could have a house out in the countryside somewhere reserved for these defrocked priests? A priest could be assigned to monitor them and provide spirtual direction and the Sacraments? There could be provision of food suffice for three square meals a day – nothing gourmet, just basic sustenance?

    That’s wheree I’m at right now.

    We would know where they are. “They” would know where they are. And the priesthood would truly, as it must, be purged

    I prefer the Island ‘retreat’ of which Father Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paraclete, spoke. As he wrote in 1957 to his bishop:

    “May I beg your excellency to concur and approve of what I consider a very vital decision on our part – that we will not offer hospitality to men who have seduced or attempted to seduce little boys or girls. These men Your Excellency are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishops I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary laicization….It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished the island retreat – but even an island is too good for these vipers of whom the Gentle master said – it were better they had not been born – this is an indirect way of saying damned, is it not? When I see the Holy Father I am going to speak of this class to his Holiness.”

    Alas, Father Fitzgerald never did get his island retreat off the ground. But, I think it was an excellent idea. I think the chances of that floating these days are no better than in 1957, hence my thought of the country homes.

    My other option Until such time as And Perhaps every diocese could have a house designated are no loger

  2. John Mac Donald says:

    I am sooooo disappointed, I kept waiting for the punch line!!!


  3. JG says:


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