One question that has always surrounded Benedict’s tenure as pope has been that of the sex-abuse scandals. In their assessment of his papacy, even otherwise friendly commentators, such as Ross Douthat, have said that he did not do enough to combat abuse, punish wrong-doers, and console victims.
In an interview with John L. Allen Jr., Fr. Hans Zollner, S.J., Vice-Rector of the Gregorian University, head of its Institute of Psychology, and a member of the “Round Table on Child Abuse” created by the German federal government, sets the record straight. He also describes the complexity of dealing with sexual abuse in various cultures and the steps that the Catholic Church is taking in Rome and around the globe.
Now that Benedict XVI is stepping down, how do you evaluate his legacy on the sexual abuse scandals?
Based on what I know personally, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he was the first person, and the most determined person, to take on what he called the ‘open wound’ in the body of the church, meaning the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. He came to know about a number of cases, and the intensity of the wounds inflicted on victims. He became aware of what priests had done to minors, and to vulnerable adults. As a result, he became more and more convinced that it has to be tackled, and at various levels he started to deal with it – the canonical level, the ecclesial, and the personal.
Benedict XVI is the first pope who has met with and listened to abuse victims, who has apologized, and who has written about the problem both in his letter to Irish bishops and in the book Light of the World.
One very important step was to concentrate all the legal and administrative procedures at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Another was to appoint a very intelligent, practical and dedicated man as Promoter of Justice.
You’re talking about Monsignor Charles Scicluna, now Bishop Scicluna in Malta?
Yes, Monsignor Scicluna, who was in that job for ten years. Now he’s appointed Father Robert Oliver [of the Boston archdiocese], which shows his resolution to go on – to do justice to the victims, to hold abusers within the church accountable, and to whatever can be done to promote prevention.
We had enormous support for the symposium on abuse last February by all the heads of the major offices in the Roman Curia – the Doctrine of the Faith, Propaganda Fide, Bishops, Education, the Secretariat of State. The Secretary of State wrote a letter to participants in which he quotes the pope. If you understand how Rome functions, all this could not have happened if there wasn’t a placet from above.
Other voices notwithstanding, and despite the bad image some people have created of the pope both as prefect and as Holy Father, he has been the most determined person to take this on. He’s been very encouraging for many people, including ourselves, to really face the issues and to try to do whatever can done to make sure that this evil within the church is acknowledged and is avoided as much as possible in the future.