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The Church in Chile: “A radical change is needed”



Aymeric Pourbaix - published on 05/21/18

Fr. Zollner, member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, talks with Aleteia

According to Fr. Hans Zollner, member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, from the sexual abuse crisis in Chile could, paradoxically, come good for the Church.

How do you rank the importance the Chilean bishops’ decision to present their resignation to the pope?

In the history of the Church, it has never occurred that an entire episcopal conference has put its posts in the hands of the Holy Father! It’s not just one person, or even several, but the entire hierarchy of a local Church which is accepting the challenge of dealing with the root causes. This is what the pope wrote in his letter to the bishops: It’s not enough to change the appearances, moving this or that around; we have to discover the roots of the problem.

Among previous cases of this magnitude, do you think this one is comparable to that of Ireland under the pontificate of Benedict XVI?

John Paul II called the bishops of the USA to Rome in 2002 [after the sexual abuse scandal]; Benedict XVI spoke with all of the Irish bishops in 2010. This means that it’s not the first time that the episcopate of a country is convoked in this way. But for the first time—and this is what’s unique about the case at hand—all of the bishops, without exception, expressed their new awareness: the need for radical change, on a structural and systemic level.

In the end, where do you think the problem lies?

One of the roots, without a doubt, is what the pope has denounced so often in his homilies and in various documents about Chile: the loss of a sense of service on the part of priests and bishops, the fact that they feel that they are authorized for special treatment. There has also been a hardening of hearts, that puts reputation and power above the reality of the suffering and anguish of those in need.

What decisions need to be taken, and what actions are necessary to reform the Church in Chile, in terms of the purification and renewal demanded by the pope?

We just celebrated Pentecost. The Spirit of the Lord always acts in new ways, and will surprise us once again, I’m sure! There have been so many crises in the Church. The faith teaches us that we cannot save ourselves on our own; the Church can’t either. The Lord of History and of Salvation is God. What we have to do is learn once again to let ourselves be challenged by the Gospel, to convert our heart, so that these events bring us closer to the Lord. And make the Church be more credible and authentic.

I’m convinced that one of the essential elements to make this happen is to listen to the voices of the abuse victims. I have been personally moved by the testimony of profoundly wounded people who have shared their path of passion, cross, and resurrection.


Father Zollner is also the director of the Center for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

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