2013年に発足した委員会が経験した最も重大な挫折の 1 つは 2017 年、ゾルナー神父と共に委員会の創設メンバーでアイルランドにおける聖職者の性的虐待の被害者で、被害者支援活動をしているマリー・コリンズ氏が、バチカンの当局者や役所が自分たちの提案を妨害したことへの不満を理由に辞任したことだった。彼女の辞任前にも、やはり創設メンバーで性的虐待被害者のピーター・サンダース氏が2016年に、自身の彼の声高な教会批判と他の委員との摩擦から批判を浴びて辞任し、二度と復帰することはなかった。
Zollner said he has received lots of encouragement since his resignation from the commission was announced, and that some have also cautioned him against making any further public statement.
“For me this is not an alternative because it would mean confusing teamwork with complicity, discretion with coverup, and loyalty with servility,” he said, and reiterated the concerns he voiced in his original statement on the importance of transparency, compliance, and accountability.
These points “are essential in the fight against abuse,” he said, saying transparency is “the basis of a synodal church that allows the participation of many,” while compliance is “the basis of justice whereby the rules apply to all and in the same way and not in an arbitrary way,” and responsibility is “the basis of a mutual and fraternal respect.”
“When there is a lack of transparency, compliance, and responsibility, it opens the door to abuse and coverup. The Pontifical Commission has set out to combat these terrible realities. If it wants to do it in a credible way, it cannot help but focus on these same principles,” he said.
Zollner said there were no abuses inside of the commission, but in terms of the commission accomplishing its goal, he said “it doesn’t help” if transparency, compliance, and responsibility are not lived.
To this end, he said there is a problem with “how rules, norms are inserted in the distinction of the various roles inside the commission,” and that given this lack of clarity, the lines were blurred and there was an overlap among various members and experts, causing confusion.
“If one doesn’t know what they are responsible for, if one doesn’t have their limits clear, their precise tasks – what they are responsible for and what they must do – and who they report to, and on what criteria, it leaves confusion, and this creates difficulty,” Zollner said.
This leads to problems with compliance in terms of how rules are followed as well as transparency, as there is a lack of clarity about who members report to and who they should expect answers from, complicating the commission’s work as members also seek to work through cultural and linguistic barriers, he said.
While stressing that he was not “placing doubt on the quality of members,” Zollner said the “reasons and criteria” for how new members are appointed must be clear.
He also raised concern about a lack of clarity regarding the commission’s relationship with the DDF.
Around four or five years ago, he said O’Malley had asked him to talk to the cardinal prefect of a different Vatican dicastery to see if they were willing to accept the commission. Though he did not disclose which dicastery this was, Zollner said the cardinal was willing to take the commission, but in the end nothing came of it, and the commission was placed within the DDF.
Zollner said he had written several emails to his superiors citing his concerns prior to submitting his resignation, and that in these emails, he made “quite critical” remarks about the DDF and the fact that the commission was placed in the body responsible for handling the judicial aspect of the cases.
“It’s like putting it in any civil tribunal,” where there is no space for the “defense of the victim and to work in the protection for minors,” he said, and lamented that nearly a year after the commission was placed within the DDF, “we don’t know how this belonging to the dicastery works or can work, or in what way we can seek to work together.”
“There could be collaboration, could be requests for reciprocal information, but for the moment I am not aware of any protocol for collaboration. It needs to be clarified if this collaboration is merely symbolic…or if it has an effective value,” he said.
He denied that the case of Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, a fellow Jesuit and famed Catholic artist accused of abusing multiple adult women, influenced his decision to step down, saying he had already begun to question his role in the commission when the Rupnik scandals broke last year.
In response to criticisms that he received a letter from one of Rupnik’s victims that he did not respond to, Zollner apologized, saying he didn’t respond because the letter was addressed to 17 people, including the prefect of the DDF, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, other members of the dicastery, and church officials in Slovenia.
Giving a summary of his attempts to engage his superiors about his concerns, Zollner said he sent emails to institutional accounts in May, August, September, and October of 2022, voicing his concerns, but never got a response.
Zollner said he finally requested a meeting with Pope Francis and met the pope on Jan. 12 of this year to explain his concerns and to offer his resignation from the commission.
“The Holy Father listened to my concerns, he showed understanding, and he accepted my request to resign,” he said, saying that in March got a letter of confirmation signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
After this, Zollner said he was contacted by O’Malley on March 27, two days before his resignation was formally announced, proposing that they release a joint statement. Zollner said he agreed, as long as his concerns were included as a reason for his decision to step down.
The next day, Zollner said he received a draft statement thanking him for his work, with a second page containing his concerns, but it was written with “roses and flowers,” downplaying the problems he cited.
Zollner said he wanted to modify the draft and was told they had another week or so to finalize the statement. However, the next day, March 29, the commission published only the first part of the statement, which did not say anything about his concerns.
“I didn’t refuse to do a joint statement, but we needed to define how. Then, seeing that the first news publishing this statement said I was too busy, that this was the main reason for leaving the commission, I couldn’t let it stay like this, because that’s not what it was,” he said.
Zollner reiterated that he supports the commission, and that his intention was never to impact or impede the commission’s work.
“How could I? I have been on it for nine years and we have gone through a lot together,” he said, but insisted that responsibility, transparency, and compliance “are signposts that the church has given itself. We need to strive more and more to really live up to that, and if there is one body in the church that needs to be exemplary in this, I think it needs to be the commission.”
He praised Pope Francis’s commitment to the issue of safeguarding and said the pope is “an absolute example of how the church should be” when it comes to listening and welcoming victim-survivors.
“Beyond the rules, beyond the institutions, beyond the guidelines, the Church must deal with people and must listen and not run away and defend itself as a first reaction,” he said, saying many people, himself included, “don’t understand why it is so difficult to sit at the table and listen, without answering, but being with people and their wounds.”
“When they tell me, you are the first person that has listened to me, it causes me great pain,” he said, saying it is everyone’s task to listen to victims, including laypeople, not just bishops and clergy.
“Many victims inside the church no longer expect anything, they’ve closed off to the church…but there are others, less visible, less public, who want to meet, just once, a human face in the church. For me this is the greatest pain, they often don’t find it,” he said.
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