Paternalistic attitude is worse than clericalism

A paternalistic attitude within the Church that devalues laypeople and puts clergy on a pedestal is worse than clericalism says German Jesuit priest Hans Zollner.

Zollner is one of the Church’s leading experts in child protection.

There are two sides to this problem, Zollner says.

One is with “the hierarchy not involving the gifts of a wide variety of faithful”.

The other is with “laypeople who enable a paternalistic attitude by believing bishops to be omniscient and having the power to affect immediate change.”

“What I want to affirm is that every baptized person is co-responsible for the holiness of the Church and needs to be prayerful about that and take action so that the community of the Church is ever more a witness to the Gospel.”

Looking at the abuse issue from a theological perspective will help understand what went wrong in terms of the image of the Church and its hierarchy that many had, Zollner says.

It will also deepen the concepts of justice, forgiveness and redemption.

“A ‘clericalist attitude’ could lead one to believe the Church only has a patriarchal structure or that only priests are important,” he says.

“However, I think it is important to affirm that it is also very much matriarchal. In every age, prophetic women have been leaders.”

He cites Dorothy Day, Mary MacKillop, Frances of Rome, Hildegard von Bingen, the early church “matriarch” Saint Macrina, and Mary the Mother of God herself as examples of women who “carried out their missions, which were often in tension with what some men in their lives wanted”.

In the year since the Vatican’s summit on the protection of minors and vulnerable people, Zollner says the Vatican City State adopted new laws and guidelines.

These include Pope Francis’s motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which he announced last May.

This outlined the responsibilities of bishops, extended the concept of protection of “vulnerable persons,” and established the obligation to report any case of abuse to church authorities.

Last December Francis announced the abolition of the Pontifical Secret in cases of sexual violence and abuse of minors by clergy.

He modified the legislation raising the age of minors from 14 to 18 years old in what constitutes a crime of possession of material that sexually exploits children under the “delicta graviora”.

He also made it possible for lay canon lawyers to take part in the legal processes.

Most recently, Francis established a task force that will help bishops’ conferences and others to prepare and update guidelines for protecting minors and vulnerable persons.

Lay movements are a priority area to tackle in terms of the fight against abuse, Zollner says.

The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life is taking “a very serious approach in this, and they are in the process of collecting guidelines from the various movements, which are very diverse in size and resources,” he says.


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