Zollner advised against staying in office after report of abuse

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A Vatican child protection official did not advise a negligent German bishop to remain in office, the bishop’s spokesman said Wednesday, despite the bishop’s recent suggestion to the contrary.

“During a conversation with Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Father Hans Zollner spoke neither for nor against the resignation of the bishop,” said Thomas Arzner, spokesman for the Diocese of Osnabrück, Germany. . The pillar October 5.

The diocese responded to questions from The pillar after a Sept. 22 press conference in which Bode, who was found guilty of mishandling allegations of abuse against priests, said he consulted with the father. Zollner, a Vatican expert on child abuse, before deciding not to resign from the diocesan leadership.

The bishop’s reference to Zollner was widely taken as an implication that the priest had approved of Bode’s decision to remain in office, despite the scandal surrounding his episcopal leadership.

Bode’s decision not to resign came as a surprise in Germany and was criticized by some church reform supporters, after a report into the history of clerical sexual abuse revealed Bode left clerics behind. accused of abuses of power, or had appointed them to positions that gave them the opportunity to commit new crimes.

“During the first decades of his tenure, Bishop Bode repeatedly left defendants in their offices, even those whose danger could hardly be doubted, or appointed them to offices which made new opportunities possible. to commit crimes, for example as an assistant and parish administrator, or even entrusted them with leadership tasks in youth ministry,” said a 600-page independent investigative report, commissioned by the diocese and published by the University of Osnabrück. September 20.

Two days after the report’s release, Bode admitted making “serious errors” and “acting negligently in some instances”, but said “it was never done with the deliberate intent to conceal or circumvent the law”.

The bishop asked “forgiveness to all those who have suffered even more than they have already suffered because of my errors and my omissions; also of all those who have been disappointed by my actions.

But he also insisted he would not resign – saying he remained in the best position to reform his diocese – and told reporters he had consulted Zollner before making his decision.

Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, is director of a Vatican-supported institute on clerical sexual abuse at the Gregorian University in Rome. He has been widely seen as an advocate for serious church reform in the wake of recent sex abuse and cover-up scandals.

The implication of Bode’s press conference – that Zollner had backed his decision – came as a shock to many Church observers, especially as Zollner called on more German bishops to resign following reports similar to the one that Bode found negligent.

For his part, Zollner said The pillar late last month that he was unable to discuss his private conversation with the Bishop, but said Bode should be able to offer a summary of what they had discussed.

The bishop’s spokesman later confirmed that Zollner had not actually advised Bode to stay in office, despite the bishop’s September 22 suggestion to the contrary.

While planning to remain in office, Bode announced new measures to improve the handling of abuse cases in his diocese, which he promised to oversee.

“I want to be measured by that commitment,” Bode told reporters last month.

Bode was elected vice-president of the German bishops’ conference in 2017 and is one of four members of a Committee overseeing the country’s controversial “synodal way”, touted as a response to a devastating crisis of clerical abuse in Germany.

The bishop has drawn international attention for his support for women deacons and blessings for same sex couples.

Several German dioceses have already issued final reports on their handling of historic abuse cases, including the Archdiocese of Cologne, the Archdiocese of Munich and Freiberg and the Diocese of Münster.

Other dioceses have commissioned reports, such as the diocese of Essen, the archdiocese of Freiburg, the diocese of Mainz, the diocese of Passau and the diocese of Trier.

Senior German bishops have offered their resignations to Pope Francis over the past two years, often following criticism over their handling of abuse cases. They include Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Heße, Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki and Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The pope has so far refused to accept the resignations.

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