MEXICO CITY – Mexico is a baseball-crazy place, which may help explain why a conference on clerical sexual abuse in the national capital opened its second day with an all-star lineup of heavy-hitters.
Leading off was German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, Director of the Center for Child Protection at the Gregorian Pontifical University, with a reputation as perhaps the Church’s most famous defender of victims of sex abuse.
“I am always surprised anew that in the Church there’s a lack of systematic theology to confront abuse and its cover-up,” Zollner began. “And that lack continues through today.”
He spoke of his experience talking with and listening to people in more than sixty countries. He asked the congress to take just three minutes to think about what they feel when they hear the words, “Sex abuse in the Catholic Church.”
Afterwards, he listed some typical reactions that he’s heard over and over and expects that the participants have also heard and felt: “I fear for the Church”; “it’s the fault of the media”; “other organizations do it worse than us”; “I can’t deal with it anymore”, etc.
When speaking about the abuse crisis, Zollner said, “in the Church we have tried to delegate the responsibility with respect to these matters to psychiatrists, lawyers and canonists, but we miss seeing the spirituality and theology: Our heart.”
He discussed the need to make space for victims and spoke about the problem of clericalism of clerics as well as the clericalism of the laity which he said are really “the same.” He also insisted that it’s important to see the Church as it is, with all its beauty along with its warts.
When we imagine the Church, Zollner said, it often doesn’t match reality: “The façade and the truth are different.”
Monsignor Luis Manuel Ali Herrera, auxiliary bishop of Bogota, Colombia and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, came to bat next. He didn’t hold back, telling the Latin American gathering that changes that have to be made in order to address abuse haven’t even begun in the region.
While he opened by thanking the participants for the things they have done, it was also a “let’s get real” moment.
His emphasis was on systemic prevention and the ways to go about getting there. He reiterated that this long running crisis has more than one cause and therefore, all parts have to be examined in order to get a hold on the thing in its entirety. He noted the work of the most well-known studies of the crisis, such as those from John Jay College and Australia’s Royal Commission.
He started with the need for education and the formation of clerics, catechists and volunteers. He insisted on forming them from the ground up with knowledge to equip them on the problem and how to deal with it, quickly reminding people that abusers will not be able to be found using solely traditional psychological means. After all, he said, only five percent of abusers exhibit classic signs of pedophilia.
He moved on to internal protection or the models of situational prevention. The key, he said, is avoiding opportunities for abuse. This ultimately depends on supervision. “The culture of prevention goes hand in hand with the culture of supervision,” Herrera said.
Third up was Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He focused on the need for support of victims with the four gifts of compassion, justice, prevention and reparation. These are the responses, he said, to the thirst and hunger of the community.
He pointed to a line that he said he thinks of often from Pope Francis’s “Letter to the People of God” from August 2018: “If one member suffers, all suffer with him.”
As for the day’s clean-up hitter, Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean sex abuse survivor, his talk was from the heart about his own experiences and those of the victims with whom he has spoken. He spoke about myths surrounding sexual abuse that go from believing if there’s no force then it’s consent, to the idea that if a boy is gay he can’t be a victim.
Echoing an earlier point of Scicluna, he said it’s important to remember “we’re all part of the body of Christ and when one is wounded we are all wounded.”
One conference participant, Salesian Father Erick Oñate Jorquera de Santiago, Chile, spoke to Crux on the sidelines. He knows and respects the work of CEPROME who sponsored the congress, however, he was disappointed with the lack of a feminine and youth perspective. While he acknowledged women and young people were represented in the audience and on the dais, he said it was an “adult-centric” and clerical point of view.
Oñate said the heavy-hitter speakers were impressive, and he was here to listen to what they had to say, but insisted there are women heavy-hitters as well, and he wishes he could have heard from them.
Oñate, 39 and a university professor of general formation, suggested his position is a generational idea. Cruz stated during his presentation that he raised a similar argument with the organizers of the event about the lack of a female speakers, and they told him the women who had been invited couldn’t come but next year they were certain to have women, and Oñate applauded loudly.
When asked if being a priest in Chile is more difficult than in other places, he said that while he’s had people call him names such as ‘pedophile’ and ask why he is part of the cover-up, it’s actually difficult just to be a baptized Catholic in Chile right now.
He says that he came because he “wants to participate in the ecclesial renovation. I will go home and transmit what I have learned to my order.”
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