Vatican safeguarding expert, Prof. Fr Hans Zollner SJ, has described a one day conference at Ealing Abbey, on child abuse, as a courageous, forward looking step that could act as a model for monastic and religious communities to participate in the healing process for victims. Fr Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was the keynote speaker at the conference, which was aimed at a wide range of people involved in safeguarding, psychology and education.
Speaking exclusively to the Conference of Religious, Fr Zollner said it was vital for the church to focus on survivors “in the crisis we are facing at this moment.” “I feel strongly that we need as a Church and in dioceses, to find our place in that situation, not just at a local level, but in the Church as a whole.”
The conference, entitled “Growing in Connectedness: Healing the History of Child Sexual Abuse,” was the brainchild of Ealing Abbey monk, Fr James Leachman OSB, who felt it was vital to move beyond words and apologies and do something concrete. He also views the conference and a new counselling service that is being launched as a means of “helping Ealing Abbey community be more restorative for the past in its core mission.”
Reflecting on the role of religious communities in helping to address the crisis, Fr Zollner said they definitely could think about being active participants: “Maybe religious and monastic communities could become a place of welcome, offering space and time for accompaniment for those harmed within the Church?” Making a comparison to how religious communities across Europe in the 19th Century adapted their charisms in order to help the poor as well as exploited workers and those in need of education, he described such an approach as a timely response to a crisis of that era: “Why could there not be a similarly timely response now, to addressing people grievously harmed? There would need to be a re-allocation of means and re-orientation of pastoral and social ministries,” but, he added, “it’s vital that survivors are listened to.”
Fr Zollner, who is also the President of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said the Church needed to ask “where is the place of survivors in our midst” and everyone was called to face reality. He hoped the message from the conference would be “of the necessity to really listen to survivors” and that the gathering would also be an inspiration for a “continuing, sustainable approach in safeguarding.”
He said religious communities could discern how to respond to help those in pain: “You need to be prepared to apply the medium which is available, but if you open your space and invest in it, you are trying to contribute to the healing process. The alternative is to look inwards - in bitterness and despair – but that is not consistent with the Gospel.”