Pope’s key clergy abuse reform ‘not working’

abuse reform

The pope’s key clergy abuse reform effort is not working, says a papal consultant.

Jesuit Fr Hans Zollner made the admission last Thursday to a group of clergy survivors of sexual abuse.

Speaking in an online session, Zollner was asked if there is recourse for those who feel their cases have not been properly handled.

There are several avenues for an appeal if survivors feel that their bishop or diocese has improperly handled their case, Zollner replied.

There are theoretically various routes in Vos estis lux mundi (a sweeping set of abuse reform laws issued by Francis in 2019), he said.

“I can also tell you that very often I realize that it’s not working,” he added.

He encouraged survivors in those situations to “document everything”.

He also agreed Vos estis was not being applied consistently or transparently. In Poland, ten bishops have been “basically dismissed” but that has not happened everywhere.

He admits too, the lack of transparency is often “connected to something that I would describe as complicity in just trying to preserve the good name of one particular person”.

At the same time, he said such reasoning is irrational.

“By doing so, you harm much more the reputation of the person and much more the reputation of the institution,” Zollner said.

Another aspect of Vos estis which Zollner criticised is its unhelpfully broad definition of a “vulnerable person” who could be at risk of abuse.

It defines a “vulnerable person” as “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist” an abuse.

He said that survivors can lack support in the US because of the country’s litigious culture.

For many in the Church “the most important priority” is attending to “the advice of lawyers”. This in turn prevents Church representatives from sitting down and listening to survivors because they think they are exposing themselves to risk.

Zollner also suggested periodic change in the leadership of religious communities or dioceses could prevent abuse.

“If you have a bishop who is 25 years in the same diocese,” many things may become so “habitual” and “unconsciously accepted”.

In these cases “the danger of becoming abusive” grows “exponentially year after year”.

He urged the Church to make supporting survivors a primary priority.

“Today, it is our mission to listen to survivors and that means investment of space, personnel, formation.”

Hans Zollner SJ is a newly-appointed consultant to the Diocese of Rome’s office dedicated to safeguarding minors and vulnerable people.

“I am committed to listening to survivors and to promoting education and formation in the field of safeguarding, and look forward to continuing to do so in this new role,” he wrote on 3 March, the day his appointment was announced.

“It is my hope that this new endeavour with the Diocese of Rome, as well as my continuing role as director of the Institute of Anthropology, will further the mission of making the world a safer place for children and vulnerable persons.”


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