Voice of the Faithful sees clergy abuse expert’s resignation as surprising and expected

Voice of the Faithful Statement, March 30, 2023, contact Nick Ingala, nickingala@votf.org, (781) 559-3360

BOSTON, Mass., March 30, 2023―Clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church filled the media yesterday with the news that the Jesuit priest who is a leading expert on safeguarding children from clergy abuse and member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children resigned from the commission. For Voice of the Faithful, an organization long dedicated to transparency and accountability in the Church regarding clergy abuse, the news was alternately surprising and expected.

In resigning, Fr. Hans Zollner was quoted as saying “the protection of children and vulnerable persons must be at the heart of the Catholic Church’s mission,” and he had “grown increasingly concerned with how the commission, in my perception, has gone about achieving that goal, particularly in the areas of responsibility, compliance, accountability and transparency.”*

Zollner’s resignation from the commission is reminiscent of the 2017 resignation of respected Irish clergy abuse survivor Marie Collins. She said at the time that she was frustrated by resistance to reforms from inside the Vatican, telling National Catholic Reporter in a statement that reluctance to implement reforms “is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”**

“Although five years have passed since Marie’s resignation,” said Mary Pat Fox, VOTF president, “it seems nothing has changed. Zollner’s resignation also validates what we have found. The Church says one thing and does another. In 2022, for example, VOTF launched our first annual review of diocesan child protection policies and found many dioceses to be severely lacking 20 years after the Dallas Charter. I would have thought every diocese would have a homepage link to child protection policies and guidelines and how to report abuse to the police. This was not the case.”

At VOTF, the news of Zollner’s resignation was surprising because, up until that moment, he had been a supporter of the Vatican’s handling of clergy abuse, as represented in Pope Francis’ reforms. The news was expected, however, for precisely the reasons he and Collins had noted, and Fox underscored. Although the Vatican and Church hierarchy continue to express sorrow for the abuse and attempt to enact measures to prevent it and protect children, these efforts have not gotten to the roots of the problem. VOTF sees those roots, in part, in clericalism, insufficient efforts to counter a culture of secrecy in the handling of abuse cases and in financial activities, lack of accountability for perpetrators and abettors, especially regarding the hierarchy, and self-reporting and self-auditing of child protection policies and practices.

“Just when we think we might be making strides in recovering from the clergy abuse crisis,” Fox said, “we are reminded that the Church has not yet moved off the dime where clerical culture trumps the protection of our children and vulnerable adults.”

She continued, “If someone as knowledgeable, experienced, and connected as Hans Zollner is now calling out the Vatican for continuing to drag its feet on an issue first significantly raised three decades ago by Fr. Thomas Doyle’s 1995 report to the Vatican, hope fades in the face of the Church’s intransigence. Voice of the Faithful, however, will remain committed to our mission of raising Spirit-led voices for reform.”

Fox pointed out that VOTF now conducts three annual nationwide reviews aimed at exposing the Church’s lack of transparency and accountability: one in diocesan finances; a second covering compliance with child protection policies and guidelines; and a third regarding the level of lay involvement in Church governance exhibited in diocesan finance councils.

*Jesuit sex abuse expert Hans Zollner resigns from papal commission over ‘urgent concerns,’ by Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, in America: The Jesuit Review

**Abuse victim quits Vatican commission, citing ‘Resistance,’ by Elizabetta Povoledo and Gaia Pianigiani, The New York Times

Voice of the Faithful’s® mission is to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church. VOTF’s goals are to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, to support priests of integrity, and to shape structural change within the Catholic Church. More information is at www.votf.org.