Vatican expert: To fight sex abuse, the Catholic Church must invest in women

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrives for the Jan. 6 installation Mass of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrives for the Jan. 6 installation Mass of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

One of the church’s experts on protecting children from abuse says that while today “there is much more awareness about the issue,” the church has to invest more resources and include more women, especially in places where the church is growing fastest.

“What is still lacking is an understanding that the protection of minors and the justice done to victims is a priority within the church,” Hans Zollner, S.J., who heads the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, told America on Thursday. He added that some bishops and other church leaders sometimes see combating sexual abuse as “one topic among others” and have not grasped that “this has to be a priority for the church.”

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Women often “bring up the voice of those who are the most vulnerable in our society.”

Father Zollner, a psychologist by training, launched the child protection initiative in 2012 in Germany and he moved to Rome in 2015 when Pope Francis requested that the center’s resources be used in the global church. He was then appointed to the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, and he is a consultor for the Vatican office that deals with clergy.

He said that when it comes to policies and protocols, the church has made great progress, especially in the decade and a half since widespread sexual abuse in the church came to light in the United States. Today, he said, cultural challenges and a lack of trained professionals in Africa, Latin America and Asia pose the greatest obstacles to fighting sex abuse.

“We need the voice of women here,” Father Zollner said, because women often “bring up the voice of those who are the most vulnerable in our society.”

He said even in places that have policies in place, sometimes the church has not invested in the kinds of professionals needed to implement the codes, such as canon lawyers and psychologists.

On Thursday, The New York Times published a story detailing additional allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C. In that story, the cardinal is accused of having sexually assaulted a man over a number of years beginning when the victim was a minor. That story followed an article on Monday in which a former seminarian accused the cardinal of preying on him and other priests and seminarians.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of the sex abuse crisis]

Father Zollner said the case of Cardinal McCarrick shows that vigilance is still needed, but he pointed out that it was a church-appointed board that eventually made the allegations against the 88-year-old prelate public and which ultimately led to his removal from ministry last month.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Kristin Wiener
1 month ago

This article is morally on point. Women are statistically less likely to be abusers and more likely to speak up for victims. It breaks my heart to hear the experiences of people at the hands of Cardinal McCarrick, but lamenting the past does nothing toward preventing these things from happening in the future. Putting more women into crucial, lay leadership roles has real potential to ferret out problems related to abusive behavior that now exist and prevent them in the future.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

Kristin: I agree with you. I would like to see faithful orthodox Catholic women be the leaders of investigations into the sexual behavior of clergy, all the way up to the Cardinalate. It could be a mix of nuns and married women. The key would be the orthodoxy and orthopraxy since there is much libertinism among liberal Catholics (they are far more "understanding" of sexual needs and sexual liberation - exactly what got the Church into this mess in the first place).

J Brookbank
3 weeks 6 days ago

Tim, I believe you would find that most priests, most nuns and many married women would object to your exclusionary list of women who would serve.

No single women? No widowed women? No women whose sacramental marriages have been annulled? No consecrated virgins?

You cannot envision that any of those women would be viable candidates to
Investigate sexual abuse of children and others by priests? Do their states in life confer dishonesty? Less Godliness in your eyes? Does marriage confer a greater degree of honesty or intellectual capacity to discern what is abuse or not abuse?

Do nuns and married women have special super powers or special super hero abuse-detecting glasses they get at the end of the wedding or bows ceremony? Are these nuns in temporary vows or permanent vows because I hear they get SUPER extra special superhero glasses when they take permanent vows.

Tim, you always exclude someone based on a calculus of your own devising.

That is a hallmark of bigotry.

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 5 days ago

J - you are now using the "bigotry" word as a tic. I was mentioning who I would like to see included, excluding only those hell-bent on deforming the Church and losing the truth - mainly unorthodox people with an agenda beyond the Gospel. I of course would welcome orthodox single women, widowed women, consecrated virgins and those who have gone through an annulment. I also expect men to be involved, clergy and laity.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 5 days ago

Good for you, Tim. You responded to my feedback that your previous comment expressed a desire for exclusionary criteria which would create a team extremely unrepresentative of the RCC membership.

Your body of comments on anything sexual in the Church is rife with exclusionary statements and unfounded claims against homisexuals and those Catholics with whose sexual lives and decisions you disagree. That is bigotry, Tim.

Dismissing as a "tic" others' recognition of your bigoted statements does nothing to change the reality that you make bigoted statements and others here recognize it and call attention to it.

And, again, good for you for accepting feedback and clarifying your comment.

Elaine Boyle
4 weeks 1 day ago

Women are gay men’s best friends and advocates. Your theoretical idea doesn’t meet with reality.

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 6 days ago

Genevieve - women do seem to more easily befriend gays and be more understanding of their particular troubles and weaknesses. But, that should not be a concern, since faithful orthodox women will want what is best for them, as I do - that they be saved from perdition.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 6 days ago

Tim, that is a stereotype. Women do not more easy befriend and understand gay men. That is an d trope grounded in the stereotype of gay men as effiminate, womanly and not like "real men". This is more bigotry, presented to Genevieve as insight. It is nonsense.

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 5 days ago

J - you are now using the "bigotry" word as a tic. the bar seems to be getting lower and lower. I guess you feel some power in repeating it, like a spell or something. I have no experience regarding the ability of women to be more compassionate in this area, and the abortion history suggests not all women are as non-violent, but I am happy to abandon the stereotype.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 5 days ago

Tim, perpetuating myths grounded in bigoted stereotypes is part and parcel of the dynamic of bigotry. It is how bigotry is passed from one generation to the next.

Good for you for acknowledging that you made a declaration about gay men, despite the fact that you have no experience or knowledge about the specific topic. Good for you for responding to that reality by abadoning the practice of repeating that myth grounded in a falsehood that gay men are effiminate, womanly and more like women than men and, thus , "just another girlfriend".

I admire your response here.

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 5 days ago

I want a full investigation of McCarrck’s network, who knew about the goings on, who stayed quiet to get ahead, who got ahead because of McCarrick. I read from other sites that Bishops Cupich, Tobin ( Newark) and Farrell all benefited. What did they know and when. Anyone that knew and stayed quiet should come forward, and offer their resignation to Pope Francis. This is serious and counter-evangelical, essentially treasonous. This happened before in the Church. . St. Peter Damian raised the alarm (Book of Gomorrah). Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) cleaned house. It is needed again.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 5 days ago

Tim, I agree with you (I don't know about the earlier events you speak of)but I agree that the full range of systemic abuses of power that have resulted in the abuse of children and subordinates by clergy of all ranks needs to be thoroughly investigated, reported transparently and thoroughly addressed with a goal of removing all responsible and eliminating the systemic conditions which prompted, facilitated, encouraged, hid and otherwise institutionalized these abuses of power in the RCC.

You highlight an important part of the dynamics that allow the persistence of abuses of power: who benefits by looking the other way? Who else protects or increases their own power by looking the other way?

A thorough and independent and transparent investigation would undoubtedly expose as culpable many leaders who are the favorites of Catholics at every point on the continuum from most "liberal" to "most conservative". And the disappointment will thus be spread around.

And the truth needs to be told and addressed no matter what.

I agree with you.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 5 days ago

I see your list of bishops and Cardinals you want investigated come straight from American Conservative and Lifesite News. Their reports, listing the same three leaders, are thin on facts and rich with innuendo.
Howbout sticking with a call for an investigation without suggesting guilty parties before it starts?

J Brookbank
3 weeks 6 days ago

Genevieve, this is nonsense.

Elaine Boyle
1 month ago

I disagree with the entire premise. Gay males who are predators and pederasts have nothing to do with women. Pederasty has no connection whatsoever to women. The Church must simply not ordain homosexual men. Period. Pederasty is part-and-parcel of homosexuality, it's actually been the preferred form if you look back throughout the sordid history of homosexual men.

Kathleen Duffy
1 month ago

This is simply false. There is absolutely NO scientific basis for your assertion that homosexual men are more likely than heterosexual men to abuse children. Your comment is grossly misinformed and merely reveals your homophobia. Clearly, you have no concern for the eradication of this problem, but instead, choose to use this tragedy as a platform for discrimination against the already alienated LGBTQ population within our Church and world as you use gay clergy as a scapegoat. Please, try to be more Christ-like.

arthur mccaffrey
1 month ago

...and please try not to indulge in name calling, like "homophobia", which while fashionable, really does not advance your argument. If you want to be an advocate for LGBTQ, then do so in a positive way without negative stereotypes--which is what LGBTQ suffer from all the time, right?

Kathleen Duffy
4 weeks ago

Arthur - I am not mocking Genevieve. I am naming the very obvious prejudice which informed her comment. What negative stereotype am I employing? How on earth could I advocate for the LGBTQ community without pointing out discrimination?

J Brookbank
3 weeks 6 days ago

Kathleen -- your response and question are right on. This business of insisting that "homophobia" is a slur is a nonsensical tactic by people who believe that bigotry is just another opinion and that these opinions should be engaged with as as if they are legitimate contributions to dialogue.

Elaine Boyle
1 month ago

I didn’t say “children”. Homosexuals are driven by VICE to then bad habit. It’s manifested primarily in pederasty not pedo. Gay men are consumed by the VICE of easy and instant gratification, it’s like masturbation gone crazy and involving other men and their orafices. They are more likely to abuse, because pederasty is the natural most desired and historically accurate assessment of those who have the homosexual disorder. Read history. Even the modern history of post Vat2 gay priests proves this. It’s the paradigm. It’s the facts we are living in, right here and now. McCarrick and all the others are classic pederasts because that is intrinsic to the homo disorder.

Frank Elliott
1 month ago

No one who utterly denies the capability self-control to boys and men heterosexual or homosexual has any right to be a parent. Go to a vet and have yourself spayed

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

Kathleen - We cannot ignore the most rigorous data we have from the social sciences. For the Church, that is the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Report. It show a huge statistical over-representation of same-sex abusers of teenagers (67% of teenager abuse - i.e. excluding the pedophilia - the pre-pubertal victims), in contrast to the low percent (2-5%) of men who self-identify as homosexuals in the general population. Any fix to the problem must take this imbalance into account. Some other facts for readers motivated more by hate of the Church than the abuse: 1) 96% of priests have never even been accused of sexual abuse of minors (4% have); 2) Not all accusations are true, (0.1% of priests have been convicted over the 50-year period), 3) the accusations peaked in the 1970s (HV was 168) and are way down in recent years, 4) the victims were pedophile in 33% cases, girls in 19%.
Here is the full report http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/uploa…

Kathleen Duffy
4 weeks ago

Tim - this is great data, important in the way it better informs us of this issue, but needs more appropriate and nuanced interpretation than you’re giving it. The disproportionate number of male victims compared to female is not an indication of sexual orientation by priests but of the role priests traditionally play as role models to young males (creating an extreme power dynamic), the access priests have traditionally had to boys, therefore able to groom them, and the priests’ understandings of the shame associated not only with sexual abuse, but same-sex abuse in particular, amongst boys and young men. Keep in mind the fact that until fairly recently, only boys could be altar servers who got to work alongside the priests.

It is true that 96% of priests have never been accused of sexual abuse of minors. The 4% that have been accused, however, is not a nominal amount to be ignored. Consider how priests there are in this world. For context: in 2012, there were 414,313 priests. 4% is 16,572 priests. That is not a small number.
The low percentage of convicted priests is not a reflection of innocence, but of the failures of our justice system and of our Church. Keep in mind the shame victims feel, the fact that many of these allegations do not come to light far into the victims’ adults lives, unable to pursue any form of legal justice do to the statute of limitations. Other victims, or their families, were paid to keep silent. Our Church is a master of hiding this abuse, a master of bureaucracy preventing legal action.

I hope you understand I comment here and criticize the Church because I love the Church. It is my love for the Catholic Church, the love I have received from it and know it is capable of giving, that I feel such shame regarding this topic. However, if we want to stop being ashamed of the corruption surrounding our Church and sexual abuse, we need to create a discourse around it, to search for the root issues, not blame an epidemic which our Church ultimately encouraged in its silence on an undeserving group of people due to our own discomfort with their sexuality.
I highly recommend the movie Spotlight. It is difficult to watch, especially as a Catholic. However, it is respectful and enlightening and made me so much aware of this problem which I used to be afraid to talk about, becoming defensive of the Church and in doing so acting with insensitivity towards the epidemic of abuse. If we remain in blind ignorance, we will never be able to move on.

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 5 days ago

Kathleen - I am happy to provide nuance, but I do not see evidence in the document that sexual orientation is not correlated with same-sex abuse, the 81% of the abuse. Perhaps, you are right that access has a big part to play and that the inclusion of girls as alter servers will change the mix of abused. I fully agree that 16,572 priest is a terrible number (about 13,423 SSA). So, if the Church could manage to follow its own rules, thousands of kids would be protected. So, my view is it should focus on where the most damage is being done. You are probably aware that the percent today is way down from the 4%. Still, the abuse of young men is only coming to light and needs to be investigated, no matter whether it is so-called consensual or not.

Spotlight is a bout a movie where the journalists did their job and exposed abuse and corruption in one institution. It seems many journalists knew about McCarrick for years and didn't go forward with a publication. That is a story in itself that needs to be examined. I want a full investigation of what went on here.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 5 days ago

Tim, if the study's data and outcomes found a correlation or a suggested correlated between gender of victim and sexual orientation of perpetrator, the study's authors would have stated that outcome explicitly OR it would have noted that the data suggest that correlate and would have recommended that further studies and researchers explore that question.

If the study's authors do not make either statement, it is inappropriate and dishonest (especially b/c you claim to work in the medical field) for you to use the study to back up your unfounded claim

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 5 days ago

That is not how the scientific literature is meant to be read. One is supposed to make one’s own conclusions from reading the data, otherwise only the conclusions should be read or published. In any case, I didn’t invent the 81%. It is in the document. There is a lot more detail on the specific abuses, in considerable detail.

I know the data is very troubling for contemporary prejudices. There will be a lot of verbal gymnastics to avoid the very strong correlation. 4% of priests were accused (I’m not saying all were guilty). 80% were SSA. Roughly 4% of the general population self-identify as same-sex attracted. That is a serious correlation. You can stay in denial and hide behind the bigotry charge but that is part of the problem, not part of any solution.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 5 days ago

Tim, you misunderstand or misrepresent the purpose of the publication of the full study from literature review through design through data collection through stastical analysis of the data through interpretation of data tbrough conclusions and caveats about limits of study through recommendations for further inquiry. All of that is required and essential for demonstrating how the outcomes were achieved, allowing for replication and review of the validity of the methods, analysis and interpretation.

If indeed you are a medical professional trained in reading research, you know that, Tim.

Appropriate reading and use of scientific research is a skill taught and learned in college-level research, statistics and discipline-specific coursework.

Again, you misrepresent basic factual information in service of your preferred argument.

Tim, telling the truth is ALWAYS part of the solution. You have been shading the truth. That needs to change before you will have any chance of accomplishing your goal.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 6 days ago

Tim, again you misrepresent the conusions these data support.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 6 days ago

Tim, again you misconstrue the data to suggest it supports conclusions you want it to support. If the data actually supported the conclusion that gay priests are the primary perpetrators, that conclusion would have been clearly stated by the authors.

Kitt Lenington
1 month ago

This has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, and not to mention this has absolutely nothing to do with inclusion of women (which we have known for a couple thousand of years). For the record, there are & have been numerous heterosexual males who are predators. One's sexual identity or orientation does not preclude them from being called by God. If so, does this now mean Cardinal McCarrick is gay, Genevieve?

Eternal Life
1 month ago

But how do you identify these gays before ordination?
Would there be a provision for compulsory declaration of sexual orientation before ordination?

We appear only to be talking about pedophiles, but what fornication, adultery, masturbation etc among priests?

I have suggested celibate and non-celibate priesthood..it will certainly go a long way to solve this sexual problems among priests.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 6 days ago

Genevieve - your posts are so full of misinformation that I have begun to think you are engaged in performance art: enacting a caricature of biblically-inspired homophobic urban myths.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

What is obvious is that women priests would make a huge difference in the clergy sex abuse problem. But of course Zollner doesn't dare say that because the pope doesn't want women to be priests or even deacons. This church can't get out of its own way to solve its problems.

Arthur Sullivan
1 month ago

You are completely right. The fatuous reference to "the voice of women" means nothing, really. Until women are ordained -- and priests allowed to marry -- efforts to stop clergy child abuse will be ineffective.

Elaine Boyle
1 month ago

Men and women are different. Women aren’t deep thinkers, they are also too easily “led” by nefarious forces. They wouldn’t make good priests.

Women are so easily corrupted and led. Like Eve. Today women are led like lemmings into wearing pink hats and supporting abortion, all by the likes of Oprah, atheistic jewish feminists, gay liberal catholic priests, etc just for a few examples. It’s atrocious.

Jesus did not ordain women.

Unless He comes back, or perhaps Our Lady, there is no authority to reject and second guess God who is Jesus Christ. Got it?

PS. Our Lady in many accepted apparitions said to PRAY the ROSARY. Not do centering prayer, walk a labyrinth, do “yoga”. See how easily corrupted women are? Women would be as bad as gay priests at killing off the Catholic faith.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

I think your contempt for women and gay people is coloring your judgement on this issue.

Elaine Boyle
1 month ago

I think your contempt with the teachings and instructions of Jesus colors your judgement. If no women were ordained by Jesus Christ, go complain to Him, ask Him to contradict Himself for you. Good luck.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

Some news - Jesus didn't ordain anyone ;)

Elaine Boyle
1 month ago

Crystal: it’s called the Last Supper and all the Apostles were men. Jesus’ female friends were not called. Read the Gospel of Jesus for the facts. Stop second guessing God who was/is Jesus. Thanks. Game over.

Crystal Watson
4 weeks 1 day ago

I've read the gospels, of course. Jesus' personally chosen "apostle to the apostles" was a woman.

Elaine Boyle
4 weeks 1 day ago

Care to cite a reference for that quote?

Arthur Sullivan
4 weeks ago

Thanks, Crystal. Good information. Let's ordain women and support married clergy as a real step to ending this self-imposed crisis that is hurting the church.

A Fielder
3 weeks 6 days ago

Genevieve, are you a woman? You must have a very low opinion of yourself. I am sorry to hear that. Also, are you trying to suggest that men don't do centering prayer or yoga, etc. hmmm.

J Brookbank
3 weeks 6 days ago

Genevieve --- "women are not derp thinkers; they are too easily led by men".

My goodness! Tell that to all the great work saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church!

Again, I think you are engaged in performance art and are acting out a caricature.

This is absurd.

Dolores Pap
3 weeks 5 days ago

Does that mean you'd never vote for a woman politician..or use the services of women doctors; that you are against women as teachers on all levels??
Why do you have such outrageously low opinions of women??

Anne Haddad
3 weeks 4 days ago

I'm not sure where to start, but how about with Genevieve Burns' comment: " Women aren’t deep thinkers, they are also too easily “led” by nefarious forces. They wouldn’t make good priests." To that, I say, she should speak only for herself, in which case I won't argue. I have had the pleasure of meeting many Catholic women -- lay and sisters -- as well as women clergy from other denominations, who are deep thinkers, theologians and scholars. And it bothers me a lot that every one of the rest of you has not called her on that statement. Some have, but everyone should.

arthur mccaffrey
1 month ago

I don't know who is worse--the fuzzy, wooly headed Zollner, or the America reporter for transcribing this confused thinking. First, “We need the voice of women here…….. because women often “bring up the voice of those who are the most vulnerable in our society.”
Really, we need women around to remind priests, bishops and cardinals that abusing children is a crime? So we will install a few women in the Vatcan like radar detectors to alert the unthinking clerics that “watch out, children ahead, keep your hands in your pockets”!

I agree 100% that the Church should be run by women instead of sexually confused men, but before we turn to women as Plan B, Zollner’s attitude speaks volumes about Vatican priorities.
“[Zollner] said even in places that have policies in place, sometimes the church has not invested in the kinds of professionals needed to implement the codes, such as canon lawyers and psychologists.” Really, we need canon lawyers to tell adult men how to behave? These are educated men who are steeped in moral theology and they have difficulty implementing child-protection policies, so they need specialists to guide them? Otherwise they will easily go off the rails and fail to protect children because it does not come naturally to them to respect the sanctity of children in particular and people in general? What kind of defective, retarded, misfits are running RCC that they need special policies and specialists to keep the employees from going off the rails? This kind of thinking speaks volumes about how dysfunctional this church is and how the concept of normal healthy human relationships is so alien to it. Sure, bring in healthy women who will be “advocates” for children, and can tell the CEOs how vulnerable they are, so watch what you do, and don’t create any more bad publicity like McCarrick, etc., etc.

Please, America, stop insulting my intelligence with these fairy tales and nonsense stories that give the impression that something meaningful is being done inside RCC to punish the past criminals like McCarrick and turn them over to civil authorities; or that really meaningful radical changes are being implemented to protect our children from religious predators. And women, do not go near a church that only wants you to be window dressing for alleged “solutions”, no matter what Zollner says about your natural talents. RCC is a corrupt, criminal institution, and it will need more than a few women to change its bad habits.

Laurence Ringo
1 month ago

Wow...someone who actually spent the truth about the man-centered Roman Catholic Church,..."a corrupt, criminal institution" ...The Gates of Hell" prevailed against this failed religious system a LOOONG time ago....Thanks for speaking truth, Mr.Maccaffrey; God bless you!!! 😎😎😎

Jeffrey More
1 month ago

Excellent comments!

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