Hans Zollner SJ: Church Needs Readiness for Self-criticism

Hans Zollner SJ: Church Needs Readiness for Self-criticism
The child protection expert Hans Zollner demands of the church on the topic of abuse “an inner attitude of readiness for constant self-criticism”. The Church needs it as well as the consequent “readiness to turn back to their own ideals,” said Zollner. He added: “Church institutions of all kinds need clear guidelines and clear definitions of responsibilities, violations of standards and related penalties, transparency in legal and administrative procedures, and ongoing training on intervention and prevention to foster a culture of mindfulness. ” Zollner is a Jesuit priest and was born in Regensburg. He manages the Child Protection Center at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and is a member of the Pontifical Child Protection Commission.

Zollner also said in relation to abuses: “The inability and unwillingness to comply with the laws of the state and the church was fueled by fear of confrontation and hard decisions as well as misunderstood – and for all very harmful – over-identification with the institution.”

Attention to the victims of abuse and their commitment to prevention are a major task of the Church. “It must be normal and natural to think of all activities – in parish, school, leisure time – that children and adolescents should be safe,” said Zollner. “This is not an ‘add-on’, that is the DNA of the Church, which embodies the core of the Church’s message, and to do so requires a wholehearted willingness to address issues openly and address them with vigor and decisiveness.” (CBA)


Hans Zollner in a Question & Answer Session
The Jesuit Hans Zollner, 50, is head of the Child Protection Center at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and is one of the most renowned sexual abuse prevention professionals. In an interview, the member of the Pontifical Child Protection Commission talks about a change of mentality among bishops and about the future of the commission.
Question: Pope Francis issued a new law in June . According to this, those bishops who are not sufficiently prosecuted for sexual abuse in their diocese can now also be prosecuted. Is this sufficient from the point of view of the Pontifical Child Protection Commission?

Hans Zollner : In the end, this so-called Motu Proprio is what the Commission wanted. The new legal basis goes beyond our proposal in one point. So it affects not only the local bishops , but also the higher religious superiors – these had not been explicitly mentioned. It is crucial that bishops, provincials and superiors may now also be held responsible under church law for neglecting their official duties and disregarding their due diligence. Behind this is the view that superiors in the legal sense have a share of responsibility for the actions of their subordinates. In the Anglo-Saxon area, this has long been required.
Following a decree by Pope Francis in June, those bishops who are not sufficiently concerned about sexual abuse in their diocese can now also be prosecuted.

Question: Do not you fear that such “soft criteria” could open the door to defamation of unwelcome bishops?

Zollner : This fear is not unjustified. However, it is not yet clear how often such cases occur. Allegations can also hit the wrong person. As with any charge, the accused has the opportunity to defend himself legally. It is clear that the name of the person in question suffers irreparable damage in public. But that cannot be avoided even in these cases.

Question: What can one imagine under a neglect of official duties? How are the new regulations applied?

Zollner : The decree officially came into force at the beginning of September. Concrete implementing regulations are missing so far. Therefore, some things are still unclear. But one thing can already be said: The message has arrived at the bishops. Suspected cases are now reported more quickly. Apparently, the bishops have become more active through this measure.

Question: Who determines the implementation of regulations?

Zollner : Pope Francis has four authorities, which are responsible for bishops and higher orders in the Vatican. Apart from the Congregationof Bishops , these are the Eastern and Conventual Congregations and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He asked them to develop appropriate criteria for their area. Compared to a detailed instruction from above, this has the advantage that the employees are involved and have to make their own thoughts on the topic and the procedure. The unity is to ensure a separate advisory commission of the Pope. Their composition is, however, not yet determined.

Question: In 2014, the papal child protection commission was initially put to trial for three years by Francis. This trial period ended in December 2017. What’s next?

Zollner : The topic of sexual abuse will continue to accompany the Catholic Church in the coming years and decades. Therefore, there will certainly continue to be an institution that deals with it at world level. However, it is currently still open regarding in which form this will happen.

Question: You are also head of the Child Protection Center at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Is its future secured?

Zollner : The child protection center relies on donations from church institutions and private individuals, because our training courses on abuse prevention focus primarily on those countries in the southern hemisphere in which we cannot demand any money. For years, our biggest donor has been the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. Added to this are the children’s missionary work ” Die Sternsinger ” and other donors. Currently, our annual budget is around 500,000 euros. In the future, we will need between € 300,000 and € 400,000 to adequately meet the fast growing demand worldwide.

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