An expert in the field of child protection has responded to a report issued last week by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, describing it as agenda-driven and out-of-date.
In an interview with ZENIT, Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, head of the Institute of Psychology at the Gregorian University in Rome, and director of the Centre for the Protection of Minors, said the report does not take into account the many positive steps that have been taken in recent years to prevent the abuse of minors.
The document was released last Wednesday, less than one month after a delegation from the Holy See appeared before a hearing of the UN Committee in Geneva.
Despite the many efforts that have been taken by the Church to ensure child protection, Fr. Zollner said, the wording of the report wrongly implies that the problems of the past are still current.
“It says priests are not punished,” Fr. Zollner said, and that “the Holy See does not do anything in prevention, or does not cooperate with the civil authorities.” It is “absolutely wrong” to make these assertions as if they apply to the present, he said, as they do not reflect the policy of the Holy See, nor the guidelines set by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
“First of all you get the impression that there have been many hands on the report. You can distinguish different positions. And, I think, you can clearly find chapters and paragraphs that have been written a long time ago, and have not been changed. Some things that have been either rewritten, or included from recent developments.”
“It looks as if some parts [of the report] are just repeating things that have been in opinion papers and blogs for many years,” he said, without taking into account the work that has been done for more than a decade.
“The report focusses on the wrongdoing, the sins, the crimes that have happened in the past, and had been covered up.” These offences did take place and ought to be denounced, he affirmed, but “to say that the Church has never defended victims, has never taken into account child safety, has always protected priests, and does not punish priests, is simply wrong.”
With regard to the treatment of victims, he continued, Pope Benedict XVI made it very clear during his pontificate “that bishops should pay attention to victims. They should listen to them, and they should give precedence to them, and not defend abusers, or negate, or neglect, deny, or hide away abusers.”
The CDF, moreover requires all bishops’ conferences to send in their guidelines, with one chapter dedicated to the care of victims. “This is a real change in policy, and this is not reflected in the report.”</p>
The UN Commission also failed to take into account the Holy See’s efforts at child protection at the global level, Fr. Zollner said.
“There are bishops’ conferences that have done their homework, and they are very well ahead of organizations, or State ministries, or NGOs in those States.” He cites the example of his native country of Germany, where the Catholic Bishops’ conference is doing more in the area of abuse prevention and victim support than sports associations, or medical associations, or psychotherapeutic associations. This is also true, he said, in many other countries with the Church being “the first promoter of child safeguarding and child protection.”
Change in Doctrine
The report has also come under fire for its criticism of Church teaching, especially with regard to contraception, abortion, and homosexuality.
Fr. Zollner said it was “very disturbing, and very confusing,” that a UN Committee would take it upon itself to suggest doctrinal changes to Catholic teaching.
“One interpretation is that they want to suggest that the Church’s sexual moral teaching provokes abuse in some way. This is obviously nonsense.”
He said that those who compiled the report appear to be “people who have their agenda and that wanted to make a point,” citing examples from more than a decade ago to support their claims. “You also see from the choice of examples they bring that they have not really taken into account the overall picture,” he said.
“Such a Commission is not neutral,” he said. “In such a Commission there are people with different standpoints and different philosophies of life and different creeds.”
However, when asked his opinion on whether the Holy See should pull itself from the UN Convention, Fr. Zollner said it would be best to maintain ties for the sake of dialogue.
“We have to also work with those people and to find those of good will who want to at least enter into serious discussion,” he said, “because we can find people who work with us, who understand our position.”
“In part, we have to own up to our responsibility for the past,” he said. However, “it is worthwhile to show that we have worked hard in recent years, and that we will certainly try to widen and to strengthen our effort in working with child protection.”