Throughout the whole church, people are feeling some part of the experience that those who have been abused describe: outrage, shame, deep sadness, conflicting feelings, an urgency to do something about it.
Because abusive behavior has been going on and covered up for so long, it has entered into the system, and we are observing something like an epidemic outbreak of a disease. What we see shows that the church administration to some degree had lost its compass. Priests used other people’s lives for their own purposes and needs, and the hierarchy was to some extent covering it up.
Although it is true that for years many people in the church have committed themselves to helping with healing and justice for victims, there is still the impression that we are working primarily out of a sense of obligation because the law and the public require certain measures. How can safeguarding instead become a matter of the heart in the deepest sense?
What next? We need better laws and procedures, but these are not enough. There is talk of getting all levels of the church involved in finding a solution, but it seems there is resistance to accountability at all levels as well. Appealing to Rome is easier. Taking concrete action is much harder.
Ignatius of Loyola counseled that during times of distress it is important to reflect more, pray harder, consult, and take advice. I cannot see how deeper reflection would lead us to any other action than that of being as transparent as possible. We have the choice as to whether this goes on and on, trickling out for years, even decades, or whether we confront what we know all at once. That means courage. It will cost a lot — and it will be the way to truth.
Jesuit Father Hans Zollner is president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.