Abuser priests could face lifelong detention

St Louis Post-Dispatch

Voluntary lifelong detention in church-run houses could be the best way of dealing with priest abusers, says child protection expert, Fr Hans Zollner SJ.

Zollner, who is the president of the Centre for Child Protection (CCP) at the Gregorian University says it’s all-important to control and guide sex abusers and “to define exactly what they may and may not do, whom they may and may not meet and how they use the internet.”

Given the critical importance of keeping close tabs on known abusers, the Church should provide places for them to live on a comprehensive basis.

Just what that accommodation would be like and how it would be managed would be determined according to local cultural norms, he suggests.

“This kind of establishment should be particularly applicable in western, highly specialised societies. In other parts of the world, where communal responsibility is more paramount, parish or spiritual communities could possibly find a way of controlling priest abusers and making it impossible for them to abuse again,” Zollner told an Austrian religious affairs programme.

Examples of detention houses for sex abuse perpetrators can be seen in the United States, where they have been used for decades. Offenders are given the option of going to such centres, which are described as “something like a prison”. They are located in remote regions and residents are subject to a strict regime with curfews and contact restrictions.

“We know from surveys that a high percentage of sexual abusers are likely to have relapses, that is, to abuse again, although they have served a prison sentence, had therapy and fulfilled other conditions. After that, no one controls them any longer – neither society nor the Church,” Zollner says.

Once a prisoner is released, “the bishop or the provincial can no longer control or supervise the perpetrator and that is a quandary we have to live with.”

Zollner’s main concerns are always about the extent perpetrators are prepared to acknowledge their own guilt and are prepared to work at ways of trying to avoid abusing again. “This is something that you cannot enforce. Unfortunately, there are perpetrators who will not accept that they have destroyed children’s and adolescents’ lives. They see themselves as the victims,” he explains.

The Church’s situation regarding how to cater for abusers is difficult. On the one hand, the Church has a duty to look after the perpetrators, while on the other it faces accusations of once again thinking more of the perpetrators than the victims, Zollner says.
It’s therefore important to remember that providing lifelong detention facilities is about preventing more minors from becoming victims.

German theologian and psychotherapist Wunibald Müller is welcoming Zollner’s suggestion. By setting up prison-like centres for paedophile priests, the Church will be able to protect both the public and the abuser priests. In this way, the Church could “show that it is really trying to deal with the problem,” Müller says.

Müller recalls visiting the Vianney Renewal Centre in Missouri (pictured) for study purposes a few years ago. “Celebration of the Eucharist takes centre stage and being able to keep up a spiritual routine is all-important for the abuser priests’ process of self-healing. It can only be guaranteed in church-run centres,” he says.


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