Key Advisor Quits Francis’ Clerical Sex Abuse Council

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  •  March 30, 2023   

Expert who ignored victim's plea contradicts cardinal in resignation letter

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VATICAN CITY ( - Citing obstacles that jeopardized his independence, a founding member of Pope Francis' council on clerical sex abuse of minors who ignored a nun's plea for justice has quit.

Marie Collins (left), former member of PCPM

Jesuit Fr. Hans Zollner published his candid letter of resignation on Twitter three hours after Cdl. Seán O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, announced that Zollner was resigning because he was too busy to serve on the commission.

In an unusually blunt statement contradicting O'Malley, the Jesuit expert on sex abuse said he was "increasingly concerned" with the PCPM's approach to safeguarding, "particularly in the areas of responsibility, compliance, accountability, and transparency."

"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," Zollner wrote Wednesday in his resignation letter. 

"With regard to compliance, there has been a lack of clarity regarding the selection process of members and staff and their respective roles and responsibilities," Zollner, the public face of Pope Francis's efforts to tackle the global abuse scandal, wrote.

The Jesuit specifically lamented the lack of "transparency on how decisions are taken in the commission," complaining that "too often, there was insufficient information and vague communication with members on how particular decisions were taken." 

She pretty much took me into a cubicle, and she performed what they call a sex act on me. 

Zollner, who served for nine years on the council created by Pope Francis in 2014, also pointed to difficulties of a "structural and practical" nature resulting from merging the PCPM with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, a move that was ordered by Pope Francis in 2022.

"I am unaware of any regulations that govern the relationship between the commission and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith," Zollner noted. 


Financial accountability was "another area of concern," Zollner observed. "It is paramount for the commission to clearly show how funds are used in its work."

Earlier on Wednesday, Cdl. O'Malley released a statement in Rome announcing that Zollner "has asked to be relieved of his duties as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors."

"Hans told me that he came to this decision after reflection on his recent appointment as consultant for safeguarding to the diocese of Rome," O'Malley wrote. "In light of this and all his other responsibilities, he has asked to be excused from his place."

Survivors have been saying for years that there are problems with the Vatican's response to the sex abuse crisis.

Zollner's resignation comes five days after Pope Francis published a final and updated version of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, his signature decree aimed at stamping out clerical sex abuse, first released in 2019. 

Francesco Zanardi, founder of Italian survivors group Rete L'Abuso (The Abuse Network), said on the group's website that Zollner was the last remaining founding member of the PCPM and its most influential member. 

Peter Saunders with Pope Francis

While Zollner had been a "rare contradictory voice" and "undoubtedly an excellent and honest interlocutor who demonstrated that he had this battle at heart," the commission itself was "absolutely useless," Zanardi remarked. 

In 2016, Peter Saunders, an English campaigner and victim of clerical sex abuse, quit the PCPM and accused the Church of obstructing the commission from carrying out its tasks. 

Saunders, a devout Catholic, was arrested in 2019 after he was caught having a sexual encounter in a restaurant lavatory cubicle with a woman he knew had been molested as a youngster.

Describing the sexual encounter that took place at the Bella Italia restaurant in Manchester, England, Saunders said, "She pretty much took me into a cubicle, and she performed what they call a sex act on me. I was too drunk to stop it."

In 2017, Marie Collins, an Irishwoman who was abused by her priest at the age of 13, resigned from the PCPM and announced that she "couldn't remain and retain my integrity."

Somebody said to me once, 'Don't work with the Vatican if you want to retain your faith.'

Collins said that the commission's work was considered "by some as an interference," and there was "a general reluctance to cooperate."

Collins recounted:

After three years of seeing continuously that in the Roman Curia there were those who did not favor our work, those who essentially boycotted it, without responding even to the most elementary requests that were made, threw me in deep dismay. I also felt ashamed, and so I decided to resign.   

Jesuit serial abuser Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik

She added:

Somebody said to me once, "Don't work with the Vatican if you want to retain your faith." And I think some of that is very true. The men that are difficult, they live in a bubble — they don't see the world the way an ordinary person in the street does.

Zollner was one of 18 clerics (mostly Jesuits) and laity who ignored an open letter sent to them by "Anna," a religious sister who was forced by serial abuser and celebrity artist Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik into a threesome with another nun, Church Militant reported

Church Militant contacted Zollner and asked why he did not respond to Anna's email. Zollner's office at the Institute of Anthropology's Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care at the Pontifical Gregorian University directed our query to an interview with Spanish Catholic media COPE.

In the interview, the Jesuit maintained that he "always responds" to communications addressed to him personally, but, with the pressure of work, he would "often have nothing to do but acknowledge receipt, listen on the extent possible and redirect it to the competent authorities." 

"But this case shows me that I must be even more attentive and sensitive," the abuse expert acknowledged.

 I also felt ashamed, and so I decided to resign.

Meanwhile, even progressive supporters of Pope Francis are acknowledging the dysfunctional nature of the PCPM that led to Zollner's resignation.

Papal hagiographer Austen Ivereigh called Zollner's departure "the biggest blow yet for a body that has struggled from the beginning to find its place: whether semi-independent from the Roman curia, or since last June, embedded in it." 

"I've reported on Pope Francis' clergy abuse commission for years. I don't think I've ever seen something quite like this," Joshua McElwee, news editor at the heterodox National Catholic Reporter, tweeted.

Responding to Ivereigh and McElwee, sex abuse victim Chris O'Leary commented, "Survivors have been saying for YEARS that there are problems with the Vatican's response to the sex abuse crisis. That, in too many cases, it's a SHAM."

"Maybe you'll start listening, now," O'Leary tweeted.


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