Zollner, a German, is a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist with a doctorate in theology, the president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and a consultor to the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy. He was one of four leaders appointed by Pope Francis to organize the February 2019 Summit on Abuse for the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences.
He visited the Archdiocese of Chicago March 1-3 to speak with seminarians, clergy and members of religious congregations on the same topic as his March 2 DePaul University talk, “The Present Status of Safeguarding in the Church.”
In his presentation, Zollner compared the church to an individual suffering from trauma who tries to wall it off, keeping it separate from everyday life. That can work well for a time, he said, but eventually the wall develops cracks, the trauma bleeds through, and the person suffers flashbacks, reliving rather than simply remembering the traumatic event.
“My theory is that is happening in the Catholic Church now,” Zollner said. “What has been hidden is coming out now, but that brings out the whole history. When people read news of an abuse that happened 50 years ago, they read it like it happened yesterday, and nothing has changed. … The awareness of the trauma that had been lingering 30, 40, 50 years has undermined the self-perception of the church.”
Zollner said 2018 was a watershed for the global abuse crisis, starting with Pope Francis’ defense of accused Chilean priest Francisco Karadima and Bishop Juan Barros in January, saying he had seen no proof that the accusations against Karadima were true. Less than two weeks later, after a public outcry, the pope sent Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Vatican’s chief abuse investigator, to Chile, where he spoke to some 70 victims. In May 2018, Pope Francis called all of the bishops of Chile to Rome, where they all offered their resignations.