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Abuse and cover-ups must no longer be tolerated

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Abuse and cover-ups
  must no longer be tolerated

abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated. This firm conviction spurred Pope Francis to convoke a meeting on
the protection of minors in the Church. Fr Hans Zollner, SJ,
— whom the Holy Father has appointed
spokesperson of the organizing committee for the meeting which will be held at
the Vatican from 21-24 February 2019 — explained in an interview with Vatican
News and L’Osservatore Romano that preparations for the meeting are now
underway. Fr Zollner, who also serves as a member of the Pontifical Commission
for the Protection of Minors, emphasized in particular the “synodal dimension
of the meeting, in which the Pope will join representatives of the episcopate
from around the world. The following is the English text of the interview.

is the goal of the Committee?

Everything needs to be prepared. And in order to prepare
everything well, there needs to be someone to shoulder the burden. The meeting
in February is an important event; it’s very important for the Church. It is
necessary that it be prepared well, and that it involve all of the Episcopal
Conferences right away. Information, reflections, the spirit of prayer and
penance and proposals for new concrete action need to be shared immediately. It
is necessary that the awareness of a synodal journal be shared — cum Petro et sub Petro (with Peter
and under Peter). We must do everything that we can, as the Holy Father said in
his letter to the People of God “to create a culture able to prevent such
situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being
covered up and perpetuated. Organizing the meeting well will help to put
together the analysis, the awareness, the shame, the repentance, prayer, and
discernment regarding actions to be undertaken and decisions to be made in
justice and in truth.

Because of this, the consultations that we will have with
victims, with groups of experts, with the laity, with educated men and women is
also important. This work will be done together with the Pontifical Commission
for the Protection of Minors, headed by Cardinal O’Malley, of which I am also a

what will you do from now until the February meeting?

In concrete terms, the Committee will provide for the
preparation of next February’s meeting in logistical terms as well as in terms
of the content, according to the directives given by the Holy Father. In view
of this, we will be sending a questionnaire to those who will be invited to
participate. It is important that there be a sharing of experiences, of the
difficulties as well as possible solutions to face this terrible scandal. It
seems to us that, even by proceeding in this way, the synodal dimension which
Pope Francis has called for so many times, will be expressed.

structure will the February meeting take on?

The structure provides for the freest and most fruitful
encounter possible. And at the same time, one that must be prayerful and
reflective, of analysis and proposals. So that the meeting might be fruitful,
as I have already said, we believe that it is very important that there be a
consultation phase, which we will launch soon. The Holy Father has assured that
he will be present at the work sessions at the meeting, which in some way will
recall the synodal experience.

there be preparatory material?

Certainly one of the Committee’s tasks is that of preparing
base documentation for the participants so that February’s meeting might be set
within the journey accomplished so far.

does the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors fit in with respect
to this new Committee?

There will be a close collaborative rapport. The fact that
I, a member of the Pontifical Commission, was named to coordinate the
activities of the organizing Committee, I think demonstrates precisely this and
emphasizes, on the Holy Father’s part, the recognition of the work done up till
now by the Pontifical Commission. In addition, the Committee will make use of
the Commission in the consultative phase that I spoke of earlier, which will be
fundamental in order to adequately prepare the meeting in February.

are saying that the expectations for the February meeting are too high. What do
you think the Pope expects from this meeting?

We are aware that there are high expectations, and it is
understandable that this is so, given the gravity of the scandal that has
shocked and wounded so many people, believers and non-believers, in so many
countries. As the Holy Father wrote in the letter to the People of God, “we
feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to
deny, the words we recite. With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an
ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not
act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage
done to so many lives.

The Holy See reiterated this clearly: “Both abuse and its
cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who
have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism
that is no longer acceptable.

And the Holy Father has convoked the meeting in February —
an unprecedented decision — precisely because he is aware that the protection
of minors is a fundamental priority for the Church, for its mission, and not
only for its credibility. For this reason, he wants the encounter between the
presidents of episcopal conferences and the other participants in the meeting
be free, without conditions, animated by prayer and by a spirit of parresia (frankness,
boldness) which he has particularly at heart.

episcopal conferences have met for their plenary assemblies in this period and
have discussed anti-abuse measures. Will there be a place for this work at
February’s meeting?

It will have a fundamental place. As I said, the
consultative phase that has already begun and specifically serves to gather
together and better harmonize the experiences of the Episcopal Conferences. If
the Pope has convoked the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, it is
precisely to emphasize how much he believes in the value of the Apostolic
communion among the bishop of Rome and his fell brothers in the episcopate. The
Holy Father is convinced that the plague, the “sacrilege as he has said
numerous times, of abuse is a problem that does not pertain to a single
country, and certainly not only to western countries. It involves every
country. It does not regard the Church only, but many different sectors:
schools, sports, the family. It requires a firm and universal response, within
specific contexts and cultures. It places us as believers in front of the
mystery of evil and the necessity to combat it to the end, without hesitation.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it. Truly, the words of St
Paul to the Corinthians, restated at the beginning of the letter to the People
of God, make us understand the spirit that moved the Pope to convoke this
meeting. We suffer together, and together, with the Lord’s help, we must find
the cure: “the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened
so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People
of God. This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will
enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness
that can allow us to be renewed from within.


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