ROME — An expert on dealing with sexual-abuse cases within the Church says prevention guidelines being developed with Vatican oversight should vary from country to country.
“We’ve realized learning habits and how people respond to some questionnaires and comply to rules varies from country to country,” said Father Hans Zollner, a German Jesuit who heads the Gregorian University’s Centre for Child Protection.
“It is most interesting and most inspiring to see this across the different cultures,” Father Zollner told Catholic News Agency June 5.
He explained that some guidelines should apply to all countries equally, since “sexual abuse is sexual abuse, no matter what.”
“But in the Philippines, for example, there is the ‘culture of touch.’”
“It means that if you don’t touch children, hugging and kissing them, there is something wrong and pathological,” Father Zollner said.
Korea, on the other hand, is a country where even just talking about sexual abuse is a complete taboo.
“In the Korean society, it is impossible to talk about this, even within families, so the West needs to realize our point of view is not the same in the rest of the world,” said Father Zollner.
Father Zollner met with Pope Francis June 4, along with some participants in a child-abuse conference being held in Rome.
“He repeated three times to ‘Go ahead; your work is important,’ so we felt very much encouraged,” the German Jesuit reported.
“He is very well aware of the problem, and he was listening deeply,” he added.
The conference, which took place May 31 through June 4 was co-sponsored by the U.S. bishops’ conference and the bishops of Sri Lanka. The theme of the conference was “Prevention of Abuse: We Are Going Global.”
Although the conference began in 1996 with English speakers, the gathering has since brought in representatives from the developing world, especially after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith mandated in 2011 that all bishops’ conferences draw up guidelines for responding to allegations of sexual abuse.
Father Zollner underscored that, although sexual abuse is a significant problem within the Church, “it is a much bigger problem in society at large.”
He explained that 67% of the cases happen within families, and “many more happen in sport organizations and schools.”
“But it doesn’t take away the deep wound, and the Church has to live up to the Gospel and to Jesus, who is the most important model,” he said.
“It is so deplorable and really against the Gospel for any Catholic who abuses minors, especially priests, who are meant to heal people,” he stated.
The Centre for Child Protection was founded in 2010 and includes three institutions: the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Institute of Psychology, the Department for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of Germany’s Ulm University Hospital and the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.
Its main purpose is the creation of a global online training center that provides academic resources for people in pastoral roles who respond to the sexual abuse of minors, taking into account multilingual and intercultural issues.