Abuse of power and sexual abuse in the Church

Experts in Dresden warn clerical abuse of power an “existential threat” to Church, call on faithful to “step up” demands for reform

Experts at a Dresden diocesan conference have warned that the clerical abuse of power represents an “existential threat” to the Church as they called on the faithful to “step up” their demands for reform.

– Vatican Child protection expert: “Institutional coping mechanisms are overwhelmed”

A conference of the diocese of Dresden-Meissen explored the connections between power and abuse in the Church, as Domradio reported February 21.

Among the participants was Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

The Jesuit – one of Pope Francis’ right-hand men in the clergy sex abuse fight – warned that with the never-ending wave of sex scandals in the Church “the institutional coping mechanisms are overwhelmed”.

Calling the sex abuse and abuse of power crisis an “existential threat” to the Church’s existence, Zollner said clerical pedophilia had “traumatised” the Church all over the world – from Australia to Ireland to the USA – and left it in such a state of “shock and paralysis” that the Church is losing almost all its credibility on other ethical issues.

The child protection expert blamed a “sacrally exaggerated” understanding of the clergy – clericalism – for the cases of priestly pedophilia that have so shocked Church and society, the true extent of which will only ever be known if the Church opens up its internal files to an external audit, Zollner admitted.

– Theologians call for complete “rethink” of priesthood in wake of crisis, opening to married men and women

For his part, Würzburg fundamental theologian Matthias Remenyi called at the Dresden-Meissen diocesan conference on sex abuse and the abuse of power for a complete “rethink” of “the theology of ecclesiastical office”.

In that vein, Dresden theologian Ulrike Irrgang opposed an “extremely exclusive understanding of the priesthood” which vetoes women and married men.

Bochum pastoral theologian Matthias Sellmann recommended that the expland its members’ rights of participation in decision-making at all levels.

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Clamouring at last for a true “separation of powers in the Catholic Church”, Sellmann advised the faithful disappointed with Pope Francis’ apparent closure to married male priests and female deacons in his post-Amazon Synod exhortation Querida Amazonia that they “step up the tone” in their calls for reforms to Church power structures.

– Bishop expresses his “horror and shame” at scandals, “explicitly” supports ‘synodal path’ attempts at reform

Also present at the Dresden-Meissen diocesan conference on abuse was local bishop Heinrich Timmerevers.

The prelate expressed his “horror and shame” at the way the Church had first reacted to abuse cases with “trivialization and cover ups”, and explained that a meeting with clergy abuse survivors had “changed” him and alerted him to the fact that “impatience is growing” among many faithful desperate for reforms to Church power.

Lamenting the Church’s “apparently high vulnerability” to sexual abuse in its ranks, Timmerevers said he “explicitly” supported the attempts of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ to reform Church structures that facilitate abuse and cover ups, and to ensure such crimes are never committed again in the future.

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With regard to the synodal path, Timmerevers affirmed he is “not fearful” of the reform process, but trusts that its promised changes to the exercise of clerical power and authority “become more and more of a reality” in the Church.

The task of the whole Church is to “further explore which frameworks and patterns favor the abuse of power”, the Dresden-Meissen bishop explained.

Timmerevers’ support for the reforms in the synodal path process to clerical power and authority are significant, not least of all because other conservative German bishops – such as Regensburg’s Rudolf Volderholzer – have maintained that the clerical sex abuse scandal is simply an excuse to overhaul the Church’s ages-old and Catholic-specific structures of authority.

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Next on Novena:

Debate continues over Church will to implement “zero tolerance” policy for pedophile priests

German TV accuses Benedict XVI of covering up for, meeting with pedophile priest

In year since Vatican anti-abuse summit, “too little, too late, not enough” on reforms, lament survivors

Cardinal Woelki of Cologne expecting criticism from independent sex abuse investigation

‘No’ to clericalism, ‘yes’ to co-responsibility: the keys to the first assembly on the German synodal path

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.