The Vatican’s internationally renowned expert on child protection, Hans Zollner, has said the German government is too restrained in its dealing with the churches on the issue of child abuse.
Asked whether the churches in Germany should hand over the investigation into abuse and cover-ups to the state, he told the newspaper Die Zeit on Thursday: “Yes. But I doubt that the politicians want that”. He said he had already campaigned for a truth commission in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, in 2020. So far, nothing had come of it.
The Jesuit also criticised Church leaders. “The stubborn defence and the tendency to only admit to what can no longer be hidden is often due to the bishops‘ fear of having to take personal responsibility,” he said. He had gained this insight as an external consultant for the abuse studies undertaken for the archdioceses of Cologne and Munich-Freising. Referring to the German bishops, the theologian said: “Another obstacle is the belief that one was called into office by God and therefore cannot be removed, unless it is by the Pope”.
It was by no means only bishops, but also rank-and-file parishioners who thought they were doing the Church a favour by protecting its public image, he said. “They don‘t understand that it‘s the other way round: the more you deny, the more untrustworthy the church appears.”
He said the Church was facing a “double crisis: the crisis of abuse and the crisis of concealment”. Everyone could do something about it, he said, for example through training on how to prevent sexual assaults on vulnerable people. It was important to listen and accompany, but also to have the courage to enter into conflicts. He therefore also told students: “Don‘t be afraid to criticise the Church! Only then can we change it”.
The university lecturer from Regensburg in Bavaria heads the Institute of Anthropology – Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC) at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. It was founded in 2021 as a successor to the Centre for Child Protection, which had existed since 2012 and which Zollner also headed.
The German theologian and licensed psychotherapist is considered an expert on the prevention of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church.
*Originally reported by KNA Germany.