Fr Hans Zollner Pope’s Child protection “expert”: NZ has made progress but still some challenges

New Zealand appeared to have made reasonable progress in its work to address sexual abuse within the church and to stop it happening in the future says Fr Hans Zollner.

However he said there are still challenges to be faced such as unifying the church’s approach and dealing with complex migration issues.

Zollner, who has often been described as the Pope’s expert in the fight against child abuse, has just visited New Zealand for the first time.

He is a German Jesuit priest and 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.

Zollner said there has to be a national, coherent and proactive approach.

“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.”

Another challenge he identified was the influx of people from different cultures who have a different way to talk about sexuality, a different way to evolve and to live with authority and power.

While in New Zealand he held a safeguarding training day in Wellington for 85 people from all areas of the church, including Cardinal John Dew, the papal envoy and bishops.

He also held a workshop in Auckland for those responsible for the formation of priests and religious

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.”


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