01 December 2020, The Tablet

Pope's adviser writes to survivors of clerical sex abuse

Pope's adviser writes to survivors of clerical sex abuse

Fr Hans Zollner pictured here at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Massimiliano Migliorato/PA

One of the Pope’s key advisers on clerical child sexual abuse has reached out to survivors who recently wrote an open letter to the bishops of England and Wales urging change in the way victims and survivors are treated.

Fr Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for Child Protection at Rome’s Gregorian University and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, wrote in response after the survivors contacted him following the damning report into the Catholic Church, produced by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). In his letter he said that he recognised the suffering and distress that victims and survivors in England and Wales had endured, and went on to admit that there is much work still to be done on safeguarding.

“Without voices like yours being at the centre of this process we will never be able to reach the changes and the conversion necessary for the recent reforms undertaken to take root and bring about real change,” Zollner wrote, urging the survivors to keep in touch with him.

However, his letter did not refer to the demands recently made by survivors that Cardinal Nichols should quit, although their letter to him specifically referred to calls for the cardinal’s resignation.

The survivors have also received lengthy letters from the Archbishops of Southwark and Liverpool, the bishops of Lancaster, Northampton, Salford, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Clifton, Brentwood, Nottingham, Hallam, Leeds and Middlesbrough, four auxiliary bishops and Fr Christopher Thomas, General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

The bishops and others who wrote referred to the shame they felt at reading the IICSA report, the need to heal wounds and meet and listen to survivors, and a hope that the Church's safeguarding will improve. The rest of the archbishops and bishops have yet to respond. Cardinal Nichols sent a very short letter, noting the contents of the survivors’ own letter.

Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth wrote that listening to survivors’ stories broke his heart. He said: “Such pain, however, is nothing compared to the agony and torment that you and other victims and survivors of abuse have suffered. Your voices, and those of other victims and survivors, need to be heard consistently not as a matter of the past, but in to help all of us face the reality of abuse.”

The 20 survivor signatories to the open letter to the bishops continue to call for Cardinal Nichols’ resignation. Last week Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool told a press conference that Cardinal Nichols has the full support of all the bishops of England and Wales. Deirdre MCormack, one of the signatories, said this week that their support for the cardinal was “staggering”.

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