Vatican summit on sex abuse should discuss holding bishops accountable, expert says

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a professor of psychology and president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, in 2015. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a professor of psychology and president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, in 2015. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A member of the committee organizing Pope Francis' February summit on the sexual abuse crisis said the meeting should include discussing ways to hold bishops accountable for handling cases correctly.

Addressing members of the Roman Curia before Christmas, Pope Francis said the meeting Feb. 21-24 of the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and leaders of religious orders will reaffirm the church's "firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification."


In addition, he said, with the help of experts, the meeting will examine "how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries."

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the committee organizing the February meeting, told Vatican News Dec. 27 that in addition to the goals outlined by the pope, "we want to see how we also can put on the table the question of bishops' responsibility, so there would be greater clarity about who must do something and who checks if the things the Holy Father and the church -- the dicasteries -- have ordered be done are, in effect, done."

Father Zollner, president of the Center for Child Protection at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, said the pope's commitment to not undervaluing or covering up any case of abuse will require "a clarification of procedures, which aren't so clear, especially when we are talking about the co-responsibility of a bishop or a provincial or head of an Eastern church with respect to what others bishops, provincials and superiors are doing."

And, second, he said, there must be a change of attitude. "The rules, the laws as such, will not change hearts. We see this not only in Europe, but throughout the world. So, we must see how we can reinforce throughout the church this attitude of openness and attention to the protection of minors because that is the attitude Jesus teaches us."

Father Zollner said he hoped the February meeting would help everyone in the church, everywhere in the world, realize "the urgency of making the protection of minors and bringing justice to the victims a priority."

Vatican Media also spoke to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, former papal spokesman, who published an article in mid-December saying that church leaders who continue to believe clerical sexual abuse is a problem only in some countries or cultures must open their eyes and take action, otherwise "the church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another."

People have great expectations for the February meeting he said, but they also should take time to look at all the church has been doing to face up to the crisis and protect children.

There is a real renewal needed in the church, there is a long road to travel, but, at the same time, we are not starting from zero.

"This isn't something that began today or yesterday, but decades ago," he said.

Bishops' conferences in many countries "have undertaken important initiatives, have tried to understand what really happened, how to help the victims and how to establish a culture of prevention," Father Lombardi said. And, beginning with Pope Benedict XVI, the universal church has strengthened its norms and procedures for dealing with cases.

"We must understand that the problem is very serious, very important for society and for the church," he said, and that "there is a real renewal needed in the church, there is a long road to travel, but, at the same time, we are not starting from zero."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Arthur Sullivan
6 months 3 weeks ago

Let's make it easy and put anything related to sex abuse in the hands of the International Criminal Court.

Danny Collins
6 months 2 weeks ago

That isn't good enough. The laws on child sexual abuse vary dramatically from country to country, and priests should be held to a much higher standard than what is "legal" in the civil courts. For instance, Monsignor Ricci was caught in an elevator with an underage rent boy by US standards, but the age of consent in Ecuador is 13. He also got beat up at a gay cruising site and had to call the police to be rescued and taken to the hospital. His living openly with his former Swiss Guard boyfriend caused great public scandal in Equador, but none of that was illegal. That lack of illegality is what Pope Francis used and an excuse Monsignor Ricci's behavior with his famous "Who am I to judge?" comment when asked about why a man with such a lurid past was made the Pope's eyes and ears at the Vatican Bank. That was the wrong response, though. How can such a man clean up a notoriously corrupt financial institution? Sexual and financial corruption go hand-in-hand. It's no wonder that the surplus the Vatican Bank ran when Vigano found $50 million dollars in unaccounted for assets (in one year of digging) has disappeared. Financial corruption once again reigns in the Vatican, and it isn't a coincidence that it is morally corrupt men who are have both sexual skeletons in their closet have been asked to clean it up. There really isn't any desire by Francis to clean up the Vatican's finances or to put it's moral house in order, if the corruption touches his allies. It is the corrupt wing of the church that orchestrated the election of Francis in the first place (aided by naivete among many about Francis since he was such an outsider). This is why Cardinal Wuerl remains "administrator" of the Washington DC archdiocese in spite of all the lurid details of what he did in Pittsburgh coming out in the PA grand jury report and in spite of his knowledge of McCarrick's abuse.

Ellen B
6 months 3 weeks ago

Not only Bishops, but Cardinals as well. If there is a report, it needs to go to the police without delay. And if they want to stop harming the church, with every month new reports of abuse becoming public, they should do a blanket release of everyone who has signed a confidentiality agreement. Let it all come out & it can finally end.

John White
6 months 3 weeks ago

One of the most important things that needs to be done, that’s not been discussed, is that a national (and even international) database of offenders needs to be created and easily, freely accessible to the public. Similar to the Federal sex offender registry.

J. Calpezzo
6 months 3 weeks ago

As long as Roger Mahony wears the Red Hat, nothing the Vatican does makes any sense,

Danny Collins
6 months 2 weeks ago

Not only does Mahoney still wear the red hat, but he spoke prominently at the USCCB October meeting, the one in which the US bishops were forbidden by the Vatican from even proposing non-binding ideas about how to address corrupt bishops. Mr. 663 million settlement, famous for sending abusers overseas to avoid investigation and prosecution by the civil authorities spoke instead about how the bishops need to hang together.

This is why I no longer support the annual catholic appeal, peter's pence, or any general fundraiser by the bishops. My money will instead go directly to my local parish (which has never had an abuser priest) and charities that I trust.

John Chuchman
6 months 3 weeks ago

Bishop of Phoenix when newly appointed told his priests, he was not accountable to the people or the priests, only o Rome. Start by changing that and him.

James Haraldson
6 months 3 weeks ago

How about holding the abuse protector in chief accountable as well: Pope Francis. And while we're at it, everyone who performs apologetics for sexual perversity. Lets hold America magazine accountable.

Jeffrey More
6 months 3 weeks ago

-“ A member of the committee organizing Pope Francis' February summit on the sexual abuse crisis said the meeting should include discussing ways to hold bishops accountable for handling cases correctly.”

This article is obviously intended to be a joke - at least I hope it is. Zollner is stating the obvious as if he were revealing a profound insight. What the hell else could the upcoming summit possibly be about other than discussing ways to hold the bishops and cardinals who run this international racketeering enterprise accountable for their reign of abuse and perversion? It is sad, but perhaps not surprising, that Jesuits like Zollner and Lombardi seem (a) to be quarterbacking publicity about the purposes and goals of the upcoming summit, and (b) to be either clueless or disingenuous. How can Lombardi possibly assert that bishops’ conferences have taken important initiatives when the Vatican itself stopped the American bishops meeting in Baltimore from considering ways to deal with the five-alarm fire that is threatening the Church in the United States?

arthur mccaffrey
6 months 3 weeks ago

you are absolutely correct--Zollner talks like he thinks the Bishops are a bunch of dimwits who need to be treated like handicapped learners , or else nothing will change. These cardinals and bishops have PhDs in theology and other subjects-- they are not stupid-- but it is the ingrained institutional mentality that prevents them from doing the right thing. A jail sentence would be the best learning experience they could get. Having a paddy wagon parked outside their conference hall in Rome in February with the engine running and the doors open might get the message across that this time the Pope is serious...maybe.

6 months 3 weeks ago

The Pope is the problem as much as the bishops: think McCarrick, Grassi, Connor-Murphy, the Chilean bishop(s), ....

Mike Macrie
6 months 3 weeks ago

Wow how we all fail to recognize how sexual abuse in the Church and the Bishop Cover ups has been going on for years all under Conservative Catholic Leadership. Pope Benedict resigns seeing this avalanche of sexual abuse not to mention the corruption in the Vatican Bank. Pope Francis is elected Pope and all this corruption and rot is dumped on him and we expect him to wave a Majic Wand to fix this crisis overnight - Give me a break.

6 months 3 weeks ago

Take everything out of the hands of the Vatican, the bishops, other clergy, and employees of the church. The prosecutor in every jurisdiction should appoint retired law enforcement personnel, including judges, to investigate every accusation. The bishops must be required to promptly turn over all files and documentation on the accused to the investigating
commission. Get rid of this credible nonsense. Either it was done or it was not. Put the innocent back into ministry immediately and make public announcements countering the announcements that there has been an allegation(s) and asking other accusers to come forward.
If the allegation can't be proven and is thought to be spurious and/or the accuser will not cooperate - SUE THE ACCUSER! The other side of this question, the innocent victims of accusations have been raped by the church because the bishops didn't have the courage to stand-up for the people who serve them and the People of God. Our lives are at stake here; not just the accusers. The bishops have shown themselves to be cowards, incompetent, untrustworthy, and preferential. Bishops includes the Pope. (McCarrick, Grassi, & others; Timone in NY, and the list goes on and on and on....)


The latest from america

Catholic leaders and advocates protest the Trump administration’s handling of detained immigrant children during a “Day of Action” on July 18 in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Being arrested at a U.S. Senate office building, writes William Critchley-Menor, S.J., was an act of sincere resistance to a state that enforces the horrific treatment of children we have seen in immigrant detention centers.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans joined one of the biggest protests ever seen in the U.S. territory, with irate islanders pledging to drive Gov. Ricardo Rossello from office, in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 22. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
The bishops said in a statement on July 19: “You, Mr. Governor, bribed and attacked people and groups that participate in our democratic coexistence and therefore cannot continue to exercise your role.”
America StaffJuly 22, 2019
Of course, the train ride was the highlight of his day. But I am hopeful he learned what it means to welcome the stranger.
Kerry WeberJuly 22, 2019
It is worth taking a closer look at the role of compassion and empathy in journalism, Richard G. Jones writes.
Richard G. JonesJuly 22, 2019