One of the Church’s leading experts on safeguarding and clerical sexual abuse has said the exclusion of women from seminaries has had “extremely harmful consequences” and “needs to be changed”.
Father Hans Zollner SJ told more than 200 people at the Stolen Lives webinar that “women’s role is to clean up the messes made by men.” The webinar was organized by the Root and Branch lay reform movement in Britain in collaboration with Survivor Voices and the Scottish Laity Network.
Father Zollner expressed his regret that most of the seminars on protection are attended by women. “Not only are men responsible for a great deal of confusion and harm, but they also seem to avoid facing this reality.”
The priest, director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care at Pontifical Gregorian University and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all studies show at least 80 to 90 percent. Clerical sexual abuse was committed against adolescents, not children.
In the period from 1965 to 1982, the majority of victims were male teenagers. However, the numbers changed after female altar servers were introduced and boarding schools run by priests and religious men began accepting girls.
“In the context of the forum, the participation of women as advisers, teachers and organizers is necessary to bring a more mature and realistic image and experience of this mysterious person called woman to prepare men for the priesthood or religious life. . A few years ago, most of those who were trained as seminarians never had the opportunity to really connect with women.”
Father Zollner blamed the Council of Trent for introducing the seminary structure as it is known today. He said he had “run his course” and was hearing from bishops and religious leaders that they knew about it.
“No one has a quick fix. I don’t have a magic solution to offer, and I don’t think anyone does,” he warned. The seminary was created to help those preparing for the priesthood or religious life to mature morally, relationally, and sexually through normal relationships with family, women, and children. suggested that it should be given.
One of those who welcomed Father Zollner’s observations was former priest Brian Devlin. He was one of four whistleblowers who covered up sexual abuse by Cardinal Keith O’Brien as seminary director. The revelations led to the resignation of Scotland’s most senior clergyman in 2013. Cardinal O’Brien died in 2018.
Elsewhere in his talk, the 55-year-old German theologian and psychologist said abuse is now everywhere in the church, which was not the case ten years ago. He warned that the level of transparency in solving the problem is not the same everywhere.
“I often encounter passive resistance rather than active resistance,” he said. “Among the clergy, the hierarchy within the church, and many people in the pews, there is still resistance to confessing these heinous crimes. They avoid sitting and listening to the stories of survivors, being with them when they are in pain and accompanying them on their journey.”
He also regretted that bishops’ conferences were unable to share best practices, learning processes and proactive measures that would help prevent the recurrence of mistakes.
“It is surprising that we do not have a real transfer of experience and expertise; It is really tragic because I have seen bishops and religious conferences in some European countries repeat the mistakes made in neighboring countries.”
He said recent reports in places like Britain, Germany, Ireland, France and Australia made it clear that clerical sexual abuse was not the work of a single perpetrator or a cover-up by one bishop. According to Father Zollner, the problem is dealing with abuse at a systemic level.
A 1,000-page report on abuse cases in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising over the 74-year period from 1945 to 2019, released at the end of January this year, identified all seven archbishops appointed after World War II. Father Zollner said there were “serious errors” in handling allegations of abuse and treatment of victims and dealing with offenders.
Mistakes were made, he said, regardless of whether bishops were liberal, progressive or conservative, theologians or canon lawyers, pastoral or intellectual.
“I see a little change. But, as I said before, I don’t think it’s possible to fix it quickly, especially if we look at the church as a whole.”