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Vatican expert praises 'courageous' conference on child abuse

  • Jo Siedlecka

Fr Zollner at Ealing Abbey  image ICN/JS

Fr Zollner at Ealing Abbey image ICN/JS

Source: CoR/ICN

Vatican safeguarding expert, Professor Fr Hans Zollner SJ, has described a one-day conference on child abuse, as a "courageous, forward looking step" that could act as a model for monastic and religious communities to participate in the healing process for victims.

Fr Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was keynote speaker at the event, held at Ealing Abbey yesterday, and attended by survivors of abuse, and many involved in safeguarding, counselling and education.

Entitled 'Growing in Connectedness: Healing the History of Child Sexual Abuse', the conference was the brainchild of Ealing Abbey monk, Fr James Leachman OSB, who felt it was vital to move beyond words and apologies and do something concrete. He also views the conference and a new counselling service that is being launched as a means of "helping Ealing Abbey community be more restorative for the past in its core mission."

During the day were heartfelt presentations, storytelling and discussions, facilitated by members of the Deep Democracy Forum. Music through the day was led by the Heart of London Threshold Singers.

In an interview with the Conference of Religious, Fr Zollner said it was vital for the church to focus on survivors "in the crisis we are facing at this moment," he said. "I feel strongly that we need as a Church and in dioceses, to find our place in that situation, not just at a local level, but in the Church as a whole."

Reflecting on the role of religious communities in helping to address the crisis, Fr Zollner said they definitely could think about being active participants: "Maybe religious and monastic communities could become a place of welcome, offering space and time for accompaniment for those harmed within the Church?" Making a comparison to how religious communities across Europe in the 19th Century adapted their charisms in order to help the poor as well as exploited workers and those in need of education, he described such an approach as a timely response to a crisis of that era: "Why could there not be a similarly timely response now, to addressing people grievously harmed? There would need to be a re-allocation of means and re-orientation of pastoral and social ministries," but, he added, "it's vital that survivors are listened to."

Fr Zollner, who is also the President of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said the Church needed to ask "where is the place of survivors in our midst" and everyone was called to face reality. He hoped the message from the conference would be "of the necessity to really listen to survivors" and that the gathering would also be an inspiration for a "continuing, sustainable approach in safeguarding."

He said religious communities could discern how to respond to help those in pain: "You need to be prepared to apply the medium which is available, but if you open your space and invest in it, you are trying to contribute to the healing process. The alternative is to look inwards - in bitterness and despair - but that is not consistent with the Gospel."

Speaking after the conference, Fr James told ICN: "All I did was light the blue touch paper, the fact that something was asking to be done.. I invited friends to work together and everyone said: "Here we are, ready to do all we can."

Today was made possible only because so many answered my call with a faith-filled, 'here we are'. This shared presence made the spaciousness so many people came up to us and spoke about. Thanks to the facilitators from North and West. Thanks to the 'heart team' always ready to listen and support and to members of religious congregations and school and social safeguarding teams."

" I would like to thank each of the Deep Democracy Forum group. I felt wonderful today, that the work we have all been doing together with so much heart over the past nine months in Ealing culminates in this day. It has been long in its preparation, but it is also the beginning of something. It has not been obvious for each of us to have been here, and I am so glad we all made it.

We have plans to open our new London Spring Low Cost Counselling Service in November. Other proposals will emerge after some time of reflection, but we have no plans just yet."

Watch a short film with Fr Zollner www.youtube.com/watch?v=kd9pr_aaIlQ

For more information about Ealing Abbey see: https://ealingmonks.org.uk

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