German Father Hans Zollner
Title: Father Hans Zollner on the German sex abuse report, Pope Benedict and the future of the church
In a wide-ranging interview with America, Father Hans Zollner, the German Jesuit and one of the church’s top experts in the field of the safeguarding and protection of minors and vulnerable people from abuse, discussed the much-publicized report on how abuse cases were handled in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s response to that report, the situation of the Catholic Church in Germany today, and what more Rome could do to help eliminate this plague from the church.
Father Zollner is the founding president of the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection, which has now become the university’s Safeguarding Institute (IADC). He has been one of the few people in Rome willing to speak on the record about the Munich report, Benedict XVI and the church in Germany. I spoke with him in the institute’s office, at the Collegio Bellarmino, on Jan. 28.
The Munich Report
The investigation on how clerical abuse of minors was handled by those who led the archdiocese of Munich and Freising between 1945 and 2019 was commissioned by that diocese in February 2020. It was conducted by the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm, and the report was presented at a press conference in Munich on Jan. 20. The findings revealed that at least 497 people were abused in the archdiocese in that 74-year period. It showed that most of the victims were young, 247 were male and 182 female, and 60 percent were between the ages of 8 and 14. It identified 235 perpetrators of abuse including 173 priests, nine deacons, five pastoral workers, and 48 people from the school environment. It named the archbishops and church leaders whom it found to have mishandled the cases of abuse, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.
I began by asking Father Zollner if he thinks the greatest damage to the church came from the fact that Benedict was identified as one who mishandled abuse cases. His answer was striking: “While most attention has been drawn to this, the biggest damage to the church, the most shocking fact, is that none—not a single one, conservative or liberal—of the archbishops of the Munich-Freising archdiocese from 1945 to 2019 has done consistently what he should have done in dealing with cases of abuse.” On the other hand, “they were more consistent with lay people than with priests: when a lay person was accused, they removed him from service in the church, but not the priest.”