Last week the worldwide meeting of bishops on abuse and child protection has been convened by the Pope in Rome.
Father Hans Zollner SJ is the director of the Child Protection Centre at the Pontifical University of Gregorian and helped to prepare the meeting for the bishops. 
This interview has been made before the bishops meeting.

What can the World Church expect from the meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences in February? Will there be concrete results?

Success will certainly also be achieved if the participants bring the issues of responsibility, accountability and transparency to the local Churches and make them effective. It is also important for the participants to assume their leadership responsibility in relation to this, to gain a greater degree of clarity regarding necessary instruments and to use these instruments.

Obstacles with regard to the appropriate handling of abuse must be clearly identified, named and removed according to as fixed a timetable as possible. Participants should be encouraged to come home and actively face the realities.

You travel a lot around the world: Aren't the situations of the local churches all over the world far too different to be able to regulate anything centrally from Rome at all?

The universal Church must clearly identify and strengthen local responsibilities and adapt them to the respective needs of different cultures. We must face the difficulties of intercultural communication and cooperation. Every cross-national organisation is confronted with this.

For us as a church, however, it is not exclusively a practical question that because it is more effective and efficient, one should somehow understand one another. For us the self-understanding, the own being must be in the foreground.

Fr. Hans Zollner and Fr. Federico Lombardi with Pope Francis

Is there actually sexual violence against children and young people in every culture, or is Western culture, as some say, particularly susceptible?

I cannot say whether there is sexual violence against minors in any of the thousands of cultures around the world. But what is certain is that it occurs in all countries and on all continents, in all religions and in all social systems, and has done so since time immemorial. Sexual violence has always been a terrible reality.

Father General will also be present at the meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences in February - what role do the Orders play at all in the subject of abuse, if one looks at the whole Church?

The large international religious communities like the Jesuits or the Salesians are altogether better positioned than individual dioceses. This is due to the fact that in the orders operating worldwide the assessment of the urgency and the experience of members from countries in which the abuse has played a role in the public discussion for decades (e.g. USA or Australia) is great. In Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America the Orders are also very important bearers and pioneers in the school system and thus also in prevention work.

With regard to our own Order, for which the coming to terms with sexual abuse has been a sad reality since 2010 - have we Jesuits learned more in the almost 10 years since then and where is there still a need for action for us?

We can never rest, we have to stay on the ball here as well. Otherwise one easily succumbs to the temptation of "we have already done our duty". If the prevention of abuse is to be a concern of the Order and of our Province, all members must contribute a part to it. For this we need training and discussion forums in the communities and beyond. In formation we as Jesuits are in the process of defining new standards.

For us in Germany the MHG study has formulated many things very clearly. Do the findings of the MHG study play a role in the conference?

We only have studies from five to seven countries that meet scientific standards. It turns out that on average 4-6% of the world priests have been accused of abuse in the last seventy years. Furthermore, it can be seen that a sustainable implementation of prevention measures leads to a strong decrease of reported cases of abuse. Approaching victims, talking about abuse, investing in prevention results in significantly less abuse.

A comparison of the perpetrator groups of the priests with those of the family fathers is also revealing. Priests do their first deed relatively late. Apparently there is something in their professional life that has a catalytic effect. One can reasonably draw the conclusion that the moral integrity lasted some time and then collapsed due to excessive demands, loneliness, disillusionment or overestimation of one's self.

The issue of abuse of power was a central theme of the MHG study. Since then there has been controversy over the evaluation of homosexuality, celibacy and separation of powers in the church. Will the bishops also speak about these issues?

The real problem with sexual abuse, in my opinion, is not sexual orientation, but the abuse of power. How I deal with my sexuality also says something about my person and their relationship to power: my needs, dynamics and attitudes. I find the debate far too one-dimensional if it is limited to sexual orientation.

All studies conducted by scientists say that celibacy does not lead to abuse. But it is a very important point to examine the suitability of seminarians and religious candidates for the celibate form of life carefully, to pay attention to it in their formation and above all to carry out suitable accompaniment after consecration or profession.


AUTHOR: Hans Zollner SJ - born in 1966 in Regensburg, Germany

The Jesuit Father Hans Zollner SJ is a theologian, psychology professor and psychotherapist. He heads the Roman "Centre for Child Protection" (CCP) www.childprotection.unigre.it. Zollner comes from Regensburg and is Vice Rector of the Pontifical University Gregoriana and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors established in 2014.