Protection of minors a priority for pope, commission member says

 VATICAN CITY (CNA/Europa Press)—A German priest and psychologist recently appointed to the new Vatican commission for the protection of minors has stated that the initiative demonstrates Pope Francis’ concern regarding the immediacy of the issue.

“I believe that people realize that this is an issue that Pope Francis has put on his agenda and with a priority” Father Hans Zollner, S.J., told Catholic News Agency in a March 25 interview.

Father Zollner is psychologist and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and was recently named one of the initial eight members of the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

According to Father Zollner, “the commission is … an initial group of eight people who are named to find out who else could be members of a larger commission, including other members from other continents and countries.”

Drawing attention to the name of the commission, the priest noted that its current eight members “come from eight countries” and “from different fields.”

Headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Mass., the commission is composed of four women and four men including the cardinal and himself, the priest noted, emphasizing that one of the female members from Ireland is herself a “victim of sexual abuse by a priest.”

Emphasizing the commission’s need for credibility, Father Zoller explained that the reaction of people to the commission appointees “has been for the last few days very positive around the globe.”

“What people realize is that we can’t talk about sexual abuse committed by priests and other members of the Church without listening to the victims,” he emphasized, adding that “it’s a clear statement that the Church is committed to unwavering interest and policy to listen to victims, to put the victims first.”

Noting that the commission also reveals the Church’s “global approach” to the issue, the priest explained that the effort is “not only a commitment to one country or to one continent.”

“We have to spread out what Europeans and Northern Americans have learnt in the last decades in terms of prevention work, in terms of setting up safe environments for children and youth in general. So I think there is a big opportunity here.”

Father Zoller voiced that the commission could also serve as “a communication channel” between the Holy See and local churches, as well as “from local churches to Rome,” and between the local churches themselves.

“We can see that within the Church much good has been done within the last decades,” he observed, but “with much suffering and much pain on the side of the victims and with much effort on the side of the Church authorities and of people involved.”

“But much good has come out of this in putting up protective environments for children and youth.”

Following the December announcement of the commission by the Council of Eight Cardinals selected by Pope Francis to assist him in matters of Church governance and reform, the pontiff revealed the names of eight persons who will serve as the committee’s first members last week.

Among the members of the commission are Dr. Catherine Bonnet of France; Marie Collins of Ireland; professor and Baroness Sheila Hollins of the United Kingdom; Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley O.F.M. Cap., of Boston; professor Claudio Papale of Italy; professor and former Prime Minister Hanna Suchocak of Poland, and Father Humberto Miguel Yanez, S.J., of Argentina.

Alan Holdren contributed to this report.

 

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.