Given abuse reforms, expert says bishops have ‘no excuse’ for failure

The Catholic Leader

A leading Catholic child protection expert says bishops have ‘no excuse’ for failure, given the abuse reforms being developed by the Church.

Father Hans Zollner SJ said progress is being made to deal with the problem of clerical sexual abuse.

Speaking of recent reforms ahead of this week’s three-day summit on child protection taking place in Poland, Zollner said new legal tools drafted over the past few years mean bishops know what’s required of them.

While there’s still a lot of work needed regarding awareness and safeguarding, on a general level, people in the Church now are taking the problem of clerical sexual abuse “much more seriously,” Zollner said.

Pope Francis has worked hard on the problem of clerical abuse and the urgent need for proper handling of cases that arise, Zollner noted.

His work has resulted in new legislation for Vatican City passed in May 2019. This requires all clerics and religious to report abuse cases to Church authorities, including abuse committed by bishops or cardinals. In December 2019 Francis also abolished the pontifical secret in clerical abuse cases.

Besides the above, Zollner says last year the Vatican released its handbook on handling abuse cases, which outlines the procedures to follow if an ordained minister is accused of abusing a minor.

Given the clarity of these arrangements, Zollner said bishops “have no excuse” not to follow them. The lifting of the pontifical secret specifically “gives no excuse whatsoever to deny collaboration with state authorities,” he added.

A workshop on “Safeguarding God’s Children” was held at the Polish summit this week.

The workshop aimed to help increase awareness of clerical abuse throughout central and eastern Europe. It also sought to inform bishops of their current legal responsibilities and the procedures to follow if allegations of abuse arise.

Learning these best practices is of special relevance in Poland. Over the past few years, massive public clerical abuse scandals have emerged. Within the past year, 10 bishops have been removed from their positions and sanctioned by the Vatican, for abuse and cover-up.

Most Polish bishops are currently being scrutinised as scandals continue to come out.

Although most of the abuse cases rocking Poland are decades old, the mishandling of cases has been damaging to the Church’s image, Zollner said. He suspects other countries will discover abuse cases when they start investigating.

The workshop also addressed the problem of clerical abuse from a theological and spiritual perspective.

Zollner said his biggest piece of advice is to “acknowledge the truth.”

“Despite the fact that it may shock you, it may challenge your image of the Church, of Church representatives, including priests and bishops; it may challenge your faith in God. Despite all of this, we need to face it,” he said.

“We have to stand with all those who have been harmed and we have to share the harm that has been done by the hands of those who spoke and acted in the name of God.”

In a video message sent to workshop participants, Pope Francis said that “Only by facing the truth of these cruel behaviors and humbly seeking the forgiveness of survivors will the Church be able to find its way to be once again confidently considered a place of welcome and safety for those in need.”


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