“The Pope is a person who has a very open heart; he is truly close to the victims” of sexual abuse, said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, Director of the Center for the Protection of Minors of the Pontifical Gregorian University and member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
In an interview with Vatican News on January 17, 2018, he commented on Pope Francis’ meeting with victims of sexual abuse on the part of priests, at the Apostolic Nunciature of Santiago de Chile, which took place in private the previous day, speaking of the Pontiff’s sorrow for these crimes committed by members of the clergy.
“Attention to the victims is truly at the vanguard of Pope Francis’ priorities,” affirmed Father Zollner. “His empathy, his closeness and also his spiritual assistance” are “so important that even very important stages of healing can take place.”
“What the Pope said yesterday, since his arrival at Santiago, and what he did thereafter, after having met victims, shows to what point he is aware: aware also of the fact that the Church must do much more to help the victims. And the Pope gives example, which is very important,” said the Jesuit.
Commenting on a press release of the Holy See Press Office, specifying that Pope Francis “listened to” the “sufferings” of the victims, “he prayed and wept with them,” said Father Zollner, which is precisely “ what a representative of the Church, a Bishop or a school director must do where these events occurred: simply listen,” said Father Zollner. “Listening” is “what the great majority of victims of abuse seek and exact,” affirmed the Jesuit.
However, it’s not about a “simple listening,” but of “true listening, with an open heart and spirit,” he continued.
“Chile is a country of the Americas where, for different reasons, including political and within the Church, the attention given to these phenomena is very great,” he added. However, “it’s not the first time “that Pope Francis meets victims of sexual abuse, recalled the priest. In July 2014 he met in the Vatican with a group of victims of abuse by priests. “I was also present on that occasion . . . I saw with my own eyes how the Pope reacted to so much suffering and pain,” he said.
Father Zollner said that since the Pope’s meeting with victims in July 2014, “The two persons I’ve accompanied have made great progress in their life and have had a ‘healing,” if we can say that.” “And, in a certain way, it’s a journey of reconciliation with their life, with this profound wound, and also with the Church.”
In regard to public interest on the subject of sexual abuse committed by priests, Father Zollner believes “it’s a subject that won’t leave us.”
“However, the Catholic Church also shows a diversity of responses concerning the different local Churches” which must be up to “receiving the victims and to do everything possible to continue and develop the capacity to prevent abuses.”
“We can’t change the past, but in the present, we must work so that these events are not repeated,” concluded Father Zollner.