Keys to Preventing Abuse as Explained by Vatican Expert Fr. Hans Zollner in an Exclusive Interview - VIDEO

The Vatican has blessed a plan by the Pontifical Gregorian University to transform its Centre for Child Protection into a new Institute of Anthropology. This will advance the Institute's ability to provide academic degrees while still leading the way to prevent abuse. Fr. Hans Zollner is a German Jesuit priest, theologian and psychologist, Professor at the Gregorian University, President of its Centre for Child Protection and one of the leading experts on safeguarding and prevention of sexual abuse. In this interview he explains the new institute and provides keys to preventing abuse.

FULL TEXT: Interview with Fr. Hans Zollner, President of the Child Abuse Prevention Centre, in Rome.

And Miriam Westen, Director of Catholic News World

Miriam: Thank-you, so much, for joining Catholic News World.

We have Father Hans Zollner,

from Rome with us today; to speak to us about the Catholic

church and how it is combating abuse and their new Institute.


Fr. Hans: Thank you very much.

Miriam: Perhaps you can tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, as a Jesuit also, and also with your position in the child abuse prevention center.

Fr. Hans: Yeah, I'm hailing from Regensburg, Germany, and the center of Bavaria. I was born there almost 55 years ago, and I have been working at the Pontifical Gregorian University's Institute of psychology for 18 years now.

I'm a psychologist and psychotherapist and I hold a

doctorate in theology. So I was missioned after work in students

and in school pastoral work, I was missioned to the university academic, pastoral work, here at the Gregorian university in Rome, and from 2010 on, I was very much involved in the study

and the educational work around safeguarding within the church.

In 2010, we had in Germany in the central European area, we had,

the first big wave of interest in the general public much later than in

the Anglo-Saxon world, on the sexual abuse, committed by clergy.

But then, because of a number of coincidences or you could also say

Providence brought me to work in this field. Since 2012, I'm the

president of the center for child protection of this university.

And, yes, a few weeks ago, we received the very happy news that

from the first of September, this year 2021, this center for child protection will be upgraded academic wise to an

Institute of anthropology with the subtitle interdisciplinary studies on

human dignity and care.

Miriam: Wonderful. Thank you. And, what a wonderful work you do with the, the new, well, which will be the new Institute, perhaps you can now tell us, why has the change come about, to change it to an Institute of anthropology?

Fr. Hans: Yes, first of all, there was a structural change. And,

there; that we aimed at, and then the change of name, the structural

change for us was important because a center in our university's

constitution is the lowest, rank, if you wish of the academic units and

doesn't have its own faculty, doesn't come, doesn't award degrees.

only from an Institute upwards,

Institute and faculty, one unit can then award degrees and have its own faculty members. And that is what is going to happen soon with our new Institute. And so it was important for us from an academic

point of view. So that we can also grow our own faculty and that we can have also a doctorate. We can award a doctorate in anthropology. The change of name came about because of two considerations. One is whenever

you talk about something as dirty, as uncomfortable as sexual. Child

abuse or sexual abuse in general, people become very nervous,, feel very uncomfortable and hardly anybody really wants to engage.

Fr. Hans: Many people are upset, many people are disturbed deeply,

and this is more than understandable, but then at a certain point,

people, yeah. They either defend themselves or they just ignore the facts.

And this is true for the church. And that is true in society at large, at

least as far as I am concerned. And, therefore, even if you talk

about safeguarding, if you're talking about child projection,

people see behind those names, they see always the difficulties

and the uncomfortableness. And,they, they just try to do as little as possible with it.

So we try, we, we were looking for some other name,, for some other

concept that would attract people, that would, keep them,

let me say, interested in it and that would not put them off.

The second is, the second reason for changing the name is that,

when we started, almost 10 years ago now with the Center for Child

Protection, it was clear that the main focus in the public and in the

church was on sexual abuse of minors of age. However, over the

last three, four years, this has changed drastically,

not least because of the "me too" movement that started in the U S

and North America. And then in, also in other parts of the world that brought

about an attention given to adults, adults in vulnerable positions or

in moments of vulnerability, so people who have

been abused sexually, psychologically, or in other ways, and that.

this attention has grown. And, and also in the church, we have come

to see that there are other groups of people,

 not only minors of age, need to be protected. Connected with this;

it has, another discussion has, started, you could say at least,

in the general public and in the church about the abuse of power

and the use and abuse of power and, and therefore, also the area of

Spiritual abuse, abuse in a spiritual direction, in pastoral

relationships, in all kinds of situations within the pastoral context.

Show us that, safeguarding and protection needs to go beyond these

fear of, sexual abuse only. So in the combination of these factors

we, we thought it would be wise to have first of all, an Institute,

so that we can broaden our work and we can include other faculties,

other disciplines, like:

 law, not only psychology, but also sociology, social sciences, historical,

considerations as well as spirituality and theology. Of course, if you talk

about the church context and we wanted to

broaden it also in terms of taking into account, the various groups

of people who need to be protected.

Miriam: Wonderful. That's a great project and I hope there's much success with it.

Perhaps we could, now speak on what the Church and churches, in different countries;

what do you suggest that they can do for abuse cases?

What can they advance on what they're doing now; to, better protect,

people in general from abuse.

Fr. Hans:Now, what, what one can do in terms of safeguarding of protecting.,

children or other vulnerable people and preventing abuse and especially

sexual abuse is first of all, that you create an atmosphere of respect,

and, attention to the rights and the just needs and boundaries of

other people. And this means that you're talk about it, that you bring

it to the attention of all kinds of groups, of people, and that you really

teach the different stakeholders in this.

And this is not, in the first place, for example, children,

because yes, you need to teach children, that they need to stand up

for their own rights, but children remain children. And the first group

you need to teach about not abusing others are adults, people with

more strength, more power, with more influence, and to get, other,

people, around, children, to be aware of the risks, and, be aware of

what they can do so that.

In, in a building, in a school, in a parish, in a retreat center

in whatever, wherever children or vulnerable people may be,

you need to be aware, how you can, favor a climate of, keeping the

boundaries and respecting a person's dignity. You do this by

education. You do this by, preparing people who can, be

safeguarding officers, but you need also to have some general

knowledge about this and especially, you need to help people to

talk about it, because there is such a big taboo about it.

And, many people just don't want to look at it.

Or if they see something, they, mistrust their own perceptions

or they think I don't want to get into trouble. So let us stick out of

that. On the other hand, what you need to do is not only to look

into the area of safeguarding, but also, we as a church and we,

as humanity, we need to own up also the abuse that has taken place

over the last years, decades, one can say centuries.

Miriam: Very good. Very good. And, what, counsels do you have for the

laity, in terms of, of helping and working with the, clergy and,

workers in the church and, and what, what counsels do you have

that they could do to prevent abuse?

Fr. Hans: Yes, in terms of building awareness and sensitivity, I believe

laypeople have a lot to say and a lot to do within the church.

 Fr. Hans: This is not to say that clergy or religious or other

employees within the church are not important in this, but,

lay people come from outside and they need to,

bring their own competencies, their own, let me say, special

perspective on this, taking also into account that,

lay people are... can be married, have children.

 Fr. Hans: And, and therefore they, they have certain also,

particular interests that the church is also taking care of vulnerable

people, not only children, but also children. So they can be,, those who

open their eyes. They open their ears. They, open their

mouth when it is necessary.

And they demand that the church lives up and the church representatives live up to their commitment,, which comes from directly

from the gospel because it is Jesus who calls the little ones to him

and is Jesus who identifies with the most vulnerable ones. If you take

Matthew 25, where he speaks that he identifies with the ones who are

naked, who are poor or thrown into prison, who are sick and he is with them.

And there is where the church needs to be. 

 Miriam: Yes. Well, will there be more, projects perhaps, on, coming from

the new Institute that will go out throughout the whole church globally.

That will be available?

 Fr. Hans: Now we here at the center for child protection,

which will soon become the Institute of anthropology. We offer two

academic programs. One is a diploma course of one semester in English

and in Spanish, on safeguarding. Then we offer a master's degree in

church language; that's called a licentiate a second cycle,

academic degree in safeguarding. The difference is that the one semester

course gives the basics and the two years course;

 of course gives, it goes much more in detail and prepares

people who will be a full time safeguarding officers for diocese, for bishops

conferences, for religious congregations and for other associations,

inside and outside the church. Then we have, from September onwards,

we will have also a doctoral program which will center on especially

questions of, protecting human dignity and how we care for vulnerable people.

 Fr. Hans: The beginning of our work was an e-learning program,

which runs as a blended learning program, for many institutions

worldwide. We have the program up and running in six languages.

And we provide certain learning units online that can be combined by,

, an institution like a school or, a university faculty or a seminary or

whatever kind of professional training institution, which, which then

compliments the e-learning units with,

 Fr. Hans: their own onsite training because we don't offer the

training to individuals and we don't offer the training only online. So we

want to favor a blended learning approach, which can from our point of

view, can be very effective in training people and informing them about

what they need to know about safeguarding.

Miriam: Wonderful. As, as we conclude, what is your vision? What do you

envision that would be some of the things that will grow out of this

Institute? What do you envision that are the best, practices to prevent

abuse that can be developed.

What are, some of your thoughts on what can happen?

Fr. Hans: I think, I think our, our intention and our work goes into, I would say,,

especially two directions. One is that we want to really include the voice of victims in our work., for safeguard purposes,, because we believe that victims are the one group of people that needs to be in this. If you talk about safeguarding, we need to listen to victims because they know what went wrong, terribly wrong,

and they can help us to understand the dynamics of abuse and how we can intercept, those, people who will have bad intentions and try to make use of other people. The second dimension that we want to bring more to the fore, also for the church and as such is the spirit dimension of abuse

and of safeguarding. Because until now it looks as if, much of our attention

in the church is centered on psychological psychiatric issues, but also on

the legal and canonical side on the church law side.

Fr. Hans: Yes, these dimensions are important and they need to be

of course, in the focus, but, there needs also to be another dimension;

that is, the specific theological and spiritual part. Which has been

overlooked unfortunately for so many years. And, to see victims

who have been abused in the church

Fr. Hans: by church representatives, really are wounded in their

spiritual side, in their belief, in their faith, in their trust in faith communities

and, in the leaders of the religion, in our case, in the church. That has not

been taken much into account over the last decades. And we want to

bring up this important point because we hope that once church representatives

understand that this is a key, to understand the victims' reality,who have been harmed on a psychological and a physical, sexual level,

but also on a spiritual level. That they understand that

this is an important part of our ministry, will help us also to, to

be receptive to the message of victims. So these two points are for me,

and for, I believe, for the Institute, will be of greatest importance.

Miriam: Thank you so very much for being with us today on

Catholic News World. It's such a wonderful, initiative there with the

Institute., and, and hopefully it will, expand, and help, other

places around the globe, dealing with this very, very important issue and,

and provide healing. Now, as you are a priest, perhaps you could say a

prayer for us. And, we ask your blessing perhaps on,

especially on people who have been abused and victims.

Fr. Hans: God, Holy Spirit. We ask you that you strengthen us.

You give us hope and you give us the courage to do whatever can

be done within our communities, our parishes, our schools, our

neighborhoods. To protect all those who are in special need for the

protection by other people, minors of age,

but also all those who find themselves in a state of vulnerability,

we ask you to give us also the insight that all of us can do something. Nobody needs

to do everything and nobody needs to be all because we can work

together and we can grow together as a community of faith,

a community of safety and a community of respect and love. Fill us with

your fire, fill us with your hope and fill us

Fr. Hans: with the gifts that only you can give us and protect us all and

protect all who are in a special care in our responsibility may almighty

God bless us, all of us and all for those, for whom we pray in the name

of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Miriam: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Fr. Hans: Thank-you. It's a pleasure.