ROME — According to one of the Catholic Church’s leading experts on preventing clerical sexual abuse, by ignoring the voice of victims “we exclude the voice of Jesus speaking to us through them.”
German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Institute of Anthropology-Interdisciplinary Studies on Protection and Human Dignity (IADC) at the Pontifical Gregorian University, was speaking at a day-long “conversation” held Thursday in Madrid, Spain, organized by publishing house PPC.
During his presentation, Zollner, who is also a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that Christians must “open their eyes, ears and mouths when we see something that could be abuse, we we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves, to inform ourselves and to inspire our communities to act.
“People affected by abuse in the Church want above all to be recognized as victims, and for the bishops to recognize that they have been hurt, mistreated by a member of the community,” he said. “Spiritual recognition is important because many victims have felt hurt in their faith and this influences their relationship with God, a hurt that causes them great pain.”
Zollner also said that the Catholic Church is doubly responsible: to society and to God. However, he warned, “sometimes society tends to forget that there are other sectors where abuse is very present, and I am not talking about families, where it is much more difficult to know , but in sport, tourism, cinema, even in the media.”
“The Church must do all that is necessary and not only what it is obliged to do,” he insisted.
Speaking in the Spanish context, which currently sees two parallel commissions examining historic allegations of clerical abuse, one sanctioned by the Spanish Congress and the other launched by the bishops, Zollner said that “naturally we don’t do not exist outside of political polarization and we cannot detach ourselves from this reality.
Yet when it comes to crafting “strategy,” Zollner said, it cannot be rooted in confrontation because it will fundamentally be “at the expense of the victims.”
Commenting on the role of the media in uncovering abuse, he said that “naturally” there are rare enemies of the Church, and even those who want to destroy it, “but media criticism is generally based on facts.”
“If there were no cases of abuse and if there was no cover-up, the newspapers would not write and there would be no scandal,” he said, insisting that “if we produce scandals and bad news, we feed the newspapers that want to attack the Church. In this sense, the first task is to put an end to the scandals and clean up what needs to be cleaned up.
Moreover, he said, “the victims still find closed doors today and it is difficult for them to find human people who listen to them and accompany them”.
To this day, the Jesuit priest says he still finds victims and survivors who have been ignored by the Church.
Zollner used the sacrament of confession as an example: There must be an examination of conscience, repentance, clear confession of sins and reparation. When it comes to abuse, he said, the review are the reports that examine the crimes and the behavior of the institution; repentance “must be sincere, from the heart, and not just easy talk”; and reparation, which often consists simply of listening to the survivors and acknowledging the crime committed against them. “For many, that’s all they’re looking for,” he said.
“The authority of the Church itself, even of the pope,” is at stake, “since the abuse touches the foundation of our faith. This is the greatest challenge we face,” according to Zollner.
Fernando García Salmones, who suffered sexual abuse in a Claretian missionary school, and Hortensia López, who suffered abuse of power as a Discalced Carmelite, participated in the same panel discussion.
“When I look back I see this child who was a little mouse standing in front of a giant vulture,” said García, who was abused in 1975, aged 14, by his religion teacher.
“I would like the Church to stop fighting against the victims and take the step towards an attitude of listening”, he said, adding that the Claretian missionaries “listened to us and they believed us” during the restorative justice process, he and other survivors passed.
For four years, he says, three children entered a priest’s room every day and no one wondered what was going on there.
“Maybe we need to lean on it. Maybe a person who is called to train others on morality and love, maybe can’t be just anybody. Or maybe “He should not be forced into celibacy. I am not a believer, and as such I am interfering in your faith, but perhaps celibacy is a mistake, because we have a repressed person who takes care of children,” he said, addressing a predominantly Catholic auditorium.
Sharing her own story, López said she went through three different communities until she reached her breaking point in 2015, at the age of 41.
From her experience, she said, “You are not a person, you are the prioress’s puppet,” and after speaking with three bishops, she found no help. In fact, one of them told her that she had to “hold back as much as she could, and when she couldn’t take it anymore, she had to leave.” And that’s what I did. »
The leader of her community, she says, even forbade her from telling her story to Pope Francis in a letter, and when she tried to send the letter to the pontiff through his bishop, the prelate said that he would not send it because “this pope answers everyone, and he will answer you, and you do not know what reprisals you will have to tolerate from the prioress. It is this bishop , she said, who told her to take as many as she could and then leave.
She was finally forced to leave the Carmelites, and when she did, she sent a letter to the Vatican Congregation for Religious: She told them that what had happened was “not within our competence , because you are no longer religious”.
Having spent 20 years as a Discalced Carmelite, by the time she left, “I didn’t know how to use a computer, I had anxiety walking the streets,” and received no support from the Church. , and it wasn’t until she wrote a book that she found support from others who had been in a similar situation.
“At the convent, I was treated by a therapist for depression caused by the mistreatment of the prioress,” she said. “But when I left, nobody took responsibility for what had happened to me. No financial aid to start all over again, after a life given to the Church.
“I was 41, I had spent 20 years in a convent, I was depressed, I had no career, do you think such a person will find a job?” she says. “The Church must assume the fact that the religious who leave have nothing.”
“Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, applies to everyone,” López said. “The Church has institutions to help everyone: people coming out of prostitution, people who are alcoholics, drug addicts. But not the religious. Why? Is it a sin to leave religious alive? When the Church preaches and practices mercy with the sinner, a person who leaves religious life does not deserve any help?