Maike Hickson

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Vatican abuse summit committee member: ‘Real problem is…abuse of power’

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February 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Father Hans Zollner, S.J. –  one of the four clergymen called by Pope Francis to prepare the upcoming February Abuse Summit in Rome – has stated in an interview that the underlying problem of the crisis is not homosexuality, but “abuse of power.”

“The real problem with sexual abuse,” he said, “is not the sexual orientation, but abuse of power.” Zollner, President of the Centre for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said the discussion is “too one-dimensional” when focusing on the aspect of sexual orientation. The Abuse Summit is to take place in Rome Feb. 21-24, where presidents of the world’s nearly 130 bishops’ conferences will gather with Pope Francis to discuss clerical sex abuse.

It appears that Fr. Zollner has not always maintained this position. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, in his momentous 2018 testimony, had quoted Fr. Zollner as telling the newspaper La Stampa that regarding clerical sexual abuse “in most cases it is a question of homosexual abuse.”

Zollner’s comments to Dr. Benjamin Leven were published in the February edition of the German Catholic journal Herder Korrespondenz.

The Jesuit priest also made some disparaging remarks about both Catholic leadership and Catholic laymen in the U.S. He said that the U.S. bishops, with their attempt at establishing new rules in November of 2018 – “irritate” him “a little,” claiming that this is an easy way out by overlooking the need of a supportive  “personal attitude.” Commenting on the ongoing abuse discussion in the U.S. he said that he finds the “level of discussion in the U.S. really unsettling.”

Father Zollner said in the interview that the most important message is that “prevention is effective,” meaning that wherever the Church takes stronger “preventive measures” against clerical sex abuse, much fewer cases of abuse are then to be found. Among the countries addressing the sexual abuse problem, he named “Ireland, the U.S., or Australia” as the “leading countries in the world.”

Zollner said that for the sake of the protection of the young, the Church should establish unified standards, but at the same time somehow leave enough “scope” for individual cultures and for their “local particularities.”

When asked about the November 2018 meeting of U.S. bishops and Pope Francis' restrictive instruction at the onset that they not establish new rules concerning sex abuse matters, Father Zollner replied that “rules alone are much too little.”

“One can establish as many rules as you wish,” he said, but it will not take hold as long as there is still needed a supportive “personal attitude” and a “personal intention.”

“The call for rules sounds good,” the Jesuit priest stated, adding: “But frankly, I am a little bit irritated when one thereby, in part, makes it very easy for oneself and overlooks – or intentionally ignores – those aspects that I have just mentioned,” namely: the need for a different personal attitude, as well as the need for “structures and processes” that “determine jurisdictions” and “describe competences with regard to support and control.” While it is easy to set rules, Zollner said, “the difficult part is to persist with them, and sustainably to implement them.”

Later in the interview, Father Zollner again singled out the United States for criticism. When Dr. Leven mentioned the current discussion in the U.S. concerning the abuse crisis, and also claimed that this topic was being used as a “weapon” against one's liberal or conservative opponents within the Church – with the conservatives claiming that the post-conciliar period is responsible for the abuse crisis – Zollner responded: “I find the level of discussion in the U.S. really unsettling.”

For Zollner, “the manner of debate is not appropriate, especially because the abuse victims are not at the center.” “There are a few reasonable voices on both [liberal and conservative] sides,” he added, “which warn us not to exploit the abuse for the sake of Church politics.” The German priest insisted that “there also have been crimes on both sides – liberals and conservatives.”

However, he rejected the specific claim of some conservatives that there exists a link between the sexual revolution of the 1970s, the Second Vatican Council, and the abuse crisis. “If one looks at the U.S. American statistics, this impression can indeed arise,” Zollner said. But, the case of Australia shows the peak of abuse cases in the 1950s and 1960s, “that is to say a time, where the world was still in order, according to the conservative viewpoint.” Further countering the purportedly conservative argument, Zollner referred to some conservative communities, such as the Legionnaires of Christ, and its own problems with sexual abuse cases.

“It is really unbelievably damaging for all sides now to instrumentalize this topic for the sake of Church politics,” Zollner concluded.

Speaking about the causes of clerical sex abuse, Father Zollner summarized the findings of Archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna from the year 2010. Scicluna, as the abuse expert at the Congregation for the Faith (CDF), saw that only 10% of the abuse cases were cases of pedophilia, while 90% were cases of ephebophilia, that is to say, cases with adolescents as victims. Among these 90%, Zollner explained, Scicluna found 70-80% of the cases to be related to boys. “Similar findings are to be found in all studies,” Zollner added.

This abuse expert, however, contradicted those who say that these findings point to a homosexual link to the abuse crisis: “But it is not clear whether homosexual assaults also always point to a homosexual orientation.” Here, Zollner claims that such abuses were related to the fact that, in earlier times, priests “barely had any contact with girls.”

“The real problem with sexual abuse,” he added, “is not the sexual orientation, but abuse of power.” For him, the discussion is “too one-dimensional” when focusing on the aspect of sexual orientation. Zollner further discussed the aspect of clericalism and of “structural dimensions” such as the role of leadership positions in institutions.

Father Zollner explained that Pope Francis had issued, in 2016, the motu proprio Come una madre amorevole that aimed at establishing ecclesial procedures for bishops accused of sexual abuse, but then added that this papally proposed project had not yet been accomplished. 

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.