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The Church’s irrevocable commitment against sexual abuse: An interview with Fr. Hans Zollner

Chiara Santomiero - published on 02/06/13

Fr. Zollner says the Church is on a "long, painful and tiring journey towards healing and renewal, and there’s no going back"

“There are those who doubt the sincerity of the Church’s commitment to fight against pedophilia from within, but the words of Jesus give us courage: ‘The truth will set you free.’” With these words, Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, Provost of the Institute of Psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and Chairman of the steering committee for the Center for the Protection of Minors, concluded a press conference held at the Jesuit University one year after the Symposium on the sexual abuse in the Church entitled, “On the Road to Healing and Renewal.” Aleteia spoke to him about the progress that’s been made this year and about what the future holds.

It’s been a year since the Symposium. The Church participated intensely in the event. What remains to be done?

The Symposium was a step forward on the Church’s long, painful and tiring journey towards healing and renewal, and there’s no going back. The concrete sign of this push forward are the proceedings from the 2012 Symposium, which have been published in 12 languages. These proceedings are a tool with which we wish to emphasize the strong commitment that’s been made by the Roman Curia to fighting sexual abuse. We had the backing and support of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the Congregation of Bishops. The proceedings are a valuable resource for people within the Church who want to be informed on the issue – perhaps from a canonical and theological as well as from a psychological and pedagogical perspective – but they can also be of use to many other people who are involved in the battle against evil.

From your vantage point, in addition to the change in course undertaken by the Church’s hierarchy, do you also see a shift in awareness at the diocesan level and among bishops and priests?

With regard to a number of countries I have visited in recent months – several countries in Eastern Europe, for example – I can say that there is certainly a much greater attention and sensitivity to this tragedy. This attention is being called for from above through measures taken by the Roman Curia or by religious congregations, but also from below, through the people who have been victims of abuse. Many people have been deeply moved by meeting the victims, because this allows them to measure the full extent of the evil committed against them. Such was the case at last year’s Symposium with the testimony given by Marie Collins from Ireland. I cannot speak for the nearly 4,000 dioceses across the world – it’s not possible to make an overall assessment of dioceses across the globe – but certainly, thanks to the letter issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011, which required all bishops’ conferences to develop their own guidelines – there has been an increase in awareness of the problem. It’s true, however, that a long, long path lies ahead; that we must never slacken; that we must continue with determination and patience, and with the same perseverance that the Holy Father has taught us, through his own personal example in confronting this scourge.

What contribution can the laity make – particularly certain professionals such as educators – along this journey to healing and renewal?

The subject of pedophilia isn’t something that only affects the Church since, as we know, the vast majority of cases of abuse actually occur in families. Teachers in schools and pre-schools have an important role to play in this battle, because unfortunately, the little reliable data we have in this area points to an increase in the number of cases of sexual abuse of minors, even of very young children. Therefore, everyone involved in the education and formation of youth has to be very present and very aware of the immense responsibility we have towards children and young people.

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