Title: Fr Zollner: Protection of minors improving since last year’s summit
Author: Vatican News Staff
Publication: Vatican News
The summit on the protection of minors was held in the Vatican on 21-24 February 2019, at the request of Pope Francis.
Presidents of Bishops’ Conference around the world were on hand for the Meeting, where abuse survivors were able to tell their stories.
Fr Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University, spoke to Vatican Radio about the steps taken since then to prevent abuse.
Q: Father Zollner, one year ago the summit on the protection of minors was held in the Vatican what concrete actions and decisions have been taken since then and what is changed in the Church’s approach to the issue.
First of all, we have had a number of changes in the law of the Church. Most of them have been introduced by the new law with the title “You are the Light of the World”.
From the 1st of June 2019 all dioceses are now obliged to establish an office for reporting abuse and for intervention and prevention. All religious and priests are obliged to report cases of abuse to the ecclesiastical authorities, and we have, for the first time, something like the setting up of a system of accountability in cases of negligence or of cover-up of cases by Bishops or by religious leaders of religious communities or other Church organizations.
So this was a major change that was accompanied by three other points that the Pope decided in December: that the age for child sexual exploitation material was raised from 14 to 18, and that pontifical secret was abolished in regards to those cases, that is, no Bishop or Provincial can hide behind what is called the political secret. So a level of confidentiality around documents that some took as a pretext for not cooperating with state authorities. That is gone now.
And thirdly we have a change also in so far as lay canonists, so lay people who are experts in Canon Law, are involved in canonical processes, at least to some degree. At the same time we have seen a change of attitude – at least I can also testify that I’ve seen that happening during the meeting of February when Bishops and other church leaders talked about child protection and met with survivors of clerical sexual abuse. They were deeply impressed. Many of them were in tears when they greeted those abuse victims after they had shared their stories with them. I know from my own experience in talking to a number Bishops’ Conferences around the world that the Presidents came back to their Bishops’ Conference and shared that experience.
I can see that in many parts of the world there is now a deeper awareness and a greater willingness to really tackle the issue and to do what needs to be done so that young people and vulnerable adults are safer in our Church.