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.”
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.
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.