August 10, 2016
A member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said that a defensive posture on the part of Church leaders has caused deep wounds to abuse victims.
“I’ve heard from survivors, had they had that opportunity to speak out and be listened to, humanly, openly, receptive, they wouldn’t have gone mad, they wouldn’t have gone public, they wouldn’t have tried to get as much money as possible, but because they were wounded by the defensive, cool approach by some church leaders they chose the other way,” said Father Hans Zollner, SJ, president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
“It’s not my concern whether we recover [our reputation] or not, my concern is to do what we need to do and stay focused on this,” he added. “We need to focus on what we can do in cleaning up the mess that has been created over the years and doing whatever we can do in creating as safe environments as possible.”
The Pope’s child sex protection expert Father Hans Zollner on battling ‘evil’
Last updated 14:21, August 10 2016
By his own admission, Father Hans Zollner’s job is “dark, bleak and heavy”.
Often described as the Pope’s expert in the fight against child abuse, he has heard countless tales from those who have suffered at the hands of priests.
Zollner, a German, is president of the Centre for Child Protection at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.
He is also a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up by Pope Francis in 2014 with the single purpose of developing initiatives that could prevent future abuse within the church.
Since the late 1980s, when the first allegations of improper behaviour within the church began to surface, thousands of people have come forward claiming they were abused by priests and nuns.
Zollner has travelled all over the world in his role, arriving in New Zealand for the first time last week.
During that time he held a full-day safeguarding training day in Wellington for 85 people from all areas of the church, including Cardinal John Dew, the papal envoy and bishops.
New Zealand appeared to have made reasonable progress in its work to address offending within the church and to stop it happening in the future, he said.
But the country was not perfect and still faced challenges, such as unifying the church and dealing with complex migration issues.
“I would hope [New Zealand] would overcome that parochial system, so that this diocese does that in this province and that order does that, but they don’t talk to each other. There has to be a national, coherent and proactive approach and that is something that has come out of this [training day].
“One major challenge I see for New Zealand is also the influx of people from different cultures where you have a different way to talk about sexuality, a different way to evolve and to live with authority and power.”
New Zealand has seen its fair share of sexual abuse cases from within the church as victims found the courage to come forward.
In May the issue was again thrust into the public eye when former priest Peter Hercock was jailed for historic offences.
One of his victims, Ann-Marie Shelley, had approached the church about Hercock more than a decade earlier.
The church investigated her claim and found it credible, with Hercock admitting his guilt during an interview. But he was never arrested until a second police investigation into the allegations.
Shelley waived her name suppression to speak out about what happened to her and to show others there was nothing to be ashamed of.
Zollner did not meet with any victims in New Zealand, but before his arrival he spent time in Australia meeting with a group from Ballarat.
The small Victorian town was a flashpoint of abuse and a focus point of a current royal commission into institutional responses into child sexual abuse that began in 2013.
Zollner said it was an emotional meeting and he simply listened to the victims.
“I’ve heard from survivors, had they had that opportunity to speak out and be listened to, humanly, openly, receptive, they wouldn’t have gone mad, they wouldn’t have gone public, they wouldn’t have tried to get as much money as possible, but because they were wounded by the defensive, cool approach by some church leaders they chose the other way.”
It’s for this reason Zollner has seen the movie Spotlight, Hollywood’s take on The Boston Globe‘s investigation into the city’s own Catholic abuse scandal, three times.
He believes it a well-made film that is “very close to the facts” and of great benefit to not only the church but wider society.
Far from worrying about how the film would further damage the church’s reputation, he said it was more important that the world was aware of what had happened.
“This is not my concern, it’s not my concern whether we recover [our reputation] or not, my concern is to do what we need to do and stay focused on this. For me this kind of work, what we do, should not be done so we recover our nice image, this is nothing important for the church.
“We need to focus on what we can do in cleaning up the mess that has been created over the years and doing whatever we can do in creating as safe environments as possible.
“There’s some expectation that never again such abuse may happen. Of course it will happen and it happens in this minute inside the church and outside the church, because this is evil and we won’t be able to do away with evil, unfortunately.”