Crisis is a call to a new vision of the priesthood


A Jesuit priest who has been on the frontline of advocating for survivors of clerical sexual abuse and developing detailed programs to prevent abuse said the crisis unfolding, again, in the United States is a summons to a new way of envisioning the church and taking responsibility for it.

“I am not surprised” by the new reports of abuse.

“I do not think it will stop soon and, at the same time, I think it is necessary and should be seen in the framework of evolving a more consistent practice of accountability,” said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a professor of psychology and president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

“I know that people are deeply angry and they are losing their trust — this is understandable.

That is normal, humanly speaking,” he told Catholic News Service Aug. 7 as newspapers were filled with information and commentary about the case of retired Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, misconduct in a Nebraska seminary and the pending release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse.

The courage of survivors to speak out, the investigative work of both police and church bodies, the implementation of child protection measures and improved screening of potential seminarians, church workers and volunteers mean that children and vulnerable adults are safer today.

Pennsylvania not the end

But, as Father Zollner has been saying for years, that does not mean accusations of past abuse will stop coming out, and it does not guarantee there will never again be a case of abuse or sexual misconduct.

Dealing with the reality of potential abuse and the history of clerical sexual abuse in the church is a process, he said.

“We see that people were first speaking out about the misbehavior of priests and now it’s bishops, so there is a development there.

“I am not surprised, and I do not think it will stop soon.”

Something new

After Archbishop McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals and was ordered to live a life of prayer and penance pending a church trial, many U.S. bishops began speaking publicly of devising a process to review accusations made against bishops.

Father Zollner agreed that is a good idea, but he believes it must be part of “a new way of coming together as the people of God” and taking responsibility for the church.

To make that happen, he said, “we need to honestly look at what we can learn from the way society and companies function in terms of accountability, transparency and compliance.”

“A church body investigating allegations needs to have as much independence as possible,” Father Zollner said.

“When dealing with accusations against a bishop, there should be at least a mixed board — meaning some bishops and some independent lay persons.

If it is not possible to have a fully complete investigation by independent lay persons, there should be as many as possible and as experienced as possible.

Our canon lawyers are trained in legal procedures; they are not trained in investigation.”

But the response must go far beyond setting up another new structure, he said. Continue reading

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , ,