Hear no evil: How culture of resistance may hinder child protection

IMAGE: CNS/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When a child-protection advocate
resigned from a papal advisory board in early March, she did so because of
growing frustration with persistent resistance and a “toxic” sense of
superiority from some in the Roman Curia.

A number of church leaders on the front lines promoting
child protection policies have also long noted the biggest challenge they face
is a cultural one — an aversion to the unknown, playing it safe
rather than speaking up, and denial and defensiveness to protect an institution
over a possible victim.

Despite four years of Pope Francis’ calls to break down
walls erected out of fear and ivory towers built on arrogance, Marie Collins
said a kind of enclave mentality could still be found in some corners of the

While there are many people who are “open and more
willing to listen and learn,” the Curia and the Vatican tend to be “very
much a closed-in system where people are talking to others with the same views and
not being challenged at all, and so things appear normal that are not actually
normal,” said Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical sex abuse, who had
served on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors since its
inception in 2014.

So when anything from the outside challenges the way
things have traditionally been done, “it is almost an instinct to resist
it, and that is what’s so difficult,” she told Catholic News Service after
her resignation.

Attitudes that avoid or squelch open, respectful dialogue
are pervasive in the wider church as well, she said, and they have “to be challenged
right from the seminary on up.” Priests and religious who “know how
damaging this clericalism is to the church” need to start “speaking
up in their own ranks” and working to eradicate it.

One priest working from within is Jesuit Father Hans Zollner,
a psychologist and academic vice rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University
in Rome. He is also a member of the papal commission for safeguarding; his work
there focuses on what is needed in priestly and religious formation —
specifically in selecting and fostering well-balanced, mature, responsible
servants of Christ who truly seek to “live out what they promised to

“From my understanding, this is the key to
everything,” the priest told CNS.

There are many clear guidelines for proper formation,
particularly from St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, he said, but “I
don’t think that many church leaders understand or at least they don’t show
many signs that they follow all the papal instructions on this.”

Many problems that emerge after formation are because of
“a growing gap between the human side and the spiritual side. People may
still say Mass and prayers, but they don’t feel connected to what they’re doing
anymore. At a certain point it becomes unbearable and they act out or drop
out,” he said.

“If you train people so they don’t show their real
face and are threatened if they bring out the real issues” because they
fear they will be shamed, ostracized or even dismissed from pursuing a
vocation, then it is obvious people will not want to bring “the real
stuff” out into the open, he added.

Seminaries and religious life, Father Zollner said, need
to foster the trust that “it’s safe” to explore problems and
tensions, and no one will be “dismissed, judged, shouted at or dealt with
in a cold way when they show their real face.”

“I believe that many of the young men don’t feel
invited to talk about normal things, things that are normal for young people,
so they bury that,” which, according to St. Ignatius, he said, lets problems
that could have been dealt with earlier “grow bigger and become like

However, he said, seminarians must be responsible for
their own formation, even if their formators are weak.

Understanding and being responsible for one’s own
emotional, spiritual and human growth are key for creating accountable,
responsible leaders, who will someday be in charge of a parish or a diocese and
its staff and community, said Jesuit Father Stefan Dartmann, rector of the Pontificium
Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum in Rome — a German-speaking seminary
serving dioceses in northern and central Europe.

Run by the Jesuits, the college puts unique emphasis on strengthening
the seminarian’s sense of discernment and “co-responsibility” in his
formation, and students are allowed to be part of the college leadership team.

The aim is to create men who can ask, “What has to
be done,” not just for themselves, but for the whole community, he told
CNS. This is critical because “we’ve had bishops who we know never
asked” about protection training and protocols “because they felt very
uncomfortable, so they waited,” he said.

There is “no reason to avoid going into the problems
— it’s the other way around,” you are obliged to foresee and act,
said Father Dartmann, who was at the tail end of his term as Jesuit provincial
in Germany when the abuse crisis in the church, including in Jesuit schools, exploded
in 2010.

That experience, he said, was “a Copernican
revolution” for them because it put the point of view of the victims —
not the church — at the center of concern. “I remember that ‘The truth
will set you free,’ was very important for me” in learning to listen to,
accept and be transformed by so much scandal.

If people let themselves be affected on a deeper level by
what abuse did and does to children, then protection policies can become a real
“apostolic priority,” he said.

Instead, if it is only seen as just another
“obligation” or yet another burden to add to an already heavy
curriculum or ministry, “then it has no effect and it doesn’t make me
trustworthy,” Father Dartmann said.

It has to come from “our own discovery of the Gospel
and freedom” and the desire to be in every way like Christ, he said.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter @CarolGlatz.


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