Fr. Hans Zollner Resigns from Papal Commission, Survivors Respond

Fr. Hans Zollner made a surprise announcement Wednesday that he resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which advises Pope Francis about safeguarding efforts in the Catholic Church. 

Considered the Vatican’s leading expert on safeguarding, Zollner appeared in an Awake event earlier this month, in conversation with two survivors of sexual abuse. During the event he was honest about the failures of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, a papal directive to address abuse. “I can …  tell you that very often I realize that it’s not working,” he said. A recording of that conversation is available here

In a statement about his resignation, Zollner, a Jesuit, was clear in his criticism: “In my work with the commission, I have noticed issues that need to be urgently addressed and which have made it impossible for me to continue further,” he said.

Specifically, he expressed concern about the commission’s approach to “responsibility, compliance, accountability and transparency.”

“I am convinced that these are principles that any Church institution, let alone the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, is bound to uphold,” he said. Zollner also described a lack of transparency around commission decisions. “Too often, there was insufficient information and vague communication with members on how particular decisions were taken,” he said. And he called the commission’s financial accountability “inadequate.”

Survivors React To His Departure

Awake’s event, “Face to Face and Heart to Heart: Fr. Hans Zollner in Conversation with Abuse Survivors,” was led by Esther Harber and Mike Koplinka-Loehr, who both experienced sexual abuse by priests. Harber responded to the news of Zollner’s departure with sadness—and anger. 

“While I deeply respect his integrity and transparency in how he resigned, it is infuriating that he had to deal with those obstacles in the first place,” she said. “It reiterated to me that while some in the Church, such as Fr. Zollner, are authentically striving to bring about renewal and to end these atrocities, many in the Church hierarchy are simply offering lip service. This is a very sad reality in our Church today.”

Koplinka-Loehr reflected on the importance of Zollner’s voice in Rome. “We need a thousand Fr. Hans Zollners across the globe, advocating for appropriate and timely survivor-centered responses to the issues of abuse that continue to face the Church,” he said, and he expressed gratitude for Zollner’s service on the commission. Koplinka-Loehr also hopes “the faithful in the pews take seriously his call to action that it will take all of us, across a generation, to advocate for the policy changes and compassionate caring required—for the healing of all those affected by any form of abuse within the Church.” 

A psychologist and licensed psychotherapist, Zollner is founder and president of the Institute of Anthropology Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He will remain at this academic institute, which focuses on educating church leaders from around the world to safeguard against abuse. Earlier this month, Zollner was announced as consultant to the Diocese of Rome’s new office for the protection of minors and vulnerable people. 

 In his statement, Zollner seemed willing to continue to engage with the commission. “I remain open to discuss safeguarding with the commission,” he said, “and hope that the aforementioned issues can be resolved in a sustainable way.”

—Erin O’Donnell, Editor

4 thoughts on “Fr. Hans Zollner Resigns from Papal Commission, Survivors Respond

  1. Thank you, Erin, for the follow-up on Fr. Zollner’s resignation. I, too, feel sadness at the loss of someone who resonates with victim/survivors and anger that the commission is top-loaded with clerical culture leadership. Is it time to rally to let our voices be heard again (the role of the laity!) now that the commission’s work is not acceptable? Any ideas?

  2. I am tired of this very unpleasant fight with the church, but if I quit, then who will replace me? A new generation of women, children, and vulnerable adults is being abused. Father Zollner’s resignation proves that it will take the laity and those on the outside to make changes within.

    1. Yes,laity are absolutely important in this work.
      The problem is with power.
      The laity need power to make changes in the church.
      And the power is in the hands of those who don’t want the change.

  3. I first met Hans in Rome, and since then have met him again when he came to Australia, and I have kept in touch by email.
    He is a man of integrity and honesty. He is serious and passionate about child safety.
    The fact that he has publicly stated why he resigned is proof that he isn’t afraid to stand up and be heard. I’m grateful for all he has done.
    The Pope has said a lot, but done little. He has the power and authority to rid the church of the scourge of CSA, but hasn’t. If he won’t, maybe the next pope will be a leader and take action.
    All Catholics should be demanding that the Bishops take action, and demanding that the Pope remove all offenders from clergy positions , sanction all those who covered up abuses, and sent all files on abusers to local authorities in all nations where it safe to do so, ie those with proper legal and criminal systems. Then he should say that all offences must be reported to local law enforcement first, and that the church will fully co-operate with them. And finally that the church will treat victims with respect and empathy and stop fighting them through courts.

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