A few days ago, I read the Associated Press article by Nicole Winfield: “Vatican-backed sex abuse research institute expands mandate, The Catholic Church’s foremost research institute studying sexual abuse of minors is expanding its mandate to also include the sexual and spiritual abuse of adults”
The article quoted Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, the head of the former Centre for Child Protection and a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Zollner is now president of the new: Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care. The Institute is taking over the child protection effort and expanding to study the abuse of adults and also spiritual abuse.
In the Associated Press interview, Zollner mentioned the Vatican’s definition of “vulnerable adult” and said that it was under discussion. My letter to Father Zollner was intended to primarily address this issue. I sent this email to the Institute at the Gregorian.
October 14, 2021
Hans Zollner SJ
Via del Seminario 120
I read the article yesterday about the new Anthropology Institute at Gregorian University. I am glad that you have expanded. The title of the article above gave me hope that you were now addressing the abuse of adults, also. Yet, when I read the AP article, I saw that you are speaking of seminarians, nuns, and “vulnerable” adults. I notice immediately the influence of the McCarrick case and of the work of Doris Wagner Reisinger. However, my heart sank when I read your statement on vulnerable adults.
I would like you to understand and those who study with you to understand that the focus should not be on whether the woman is “vulnerable” or not. The focus should be on the man. Many of the Protestant churches have such clear and modern abuse policies. The clergyman has a fiduciary responsibility. The focus should be on the man and what he may not do. The laws everywhere need to make it clear that a clergyperson may not violate the professional ethics of his office. The question of child abuse is clear because laws exist; before those laws the children were often blamed. We need laws that make it clear that abuse of adults is also criminal, unethical, as well as morally wrong.
That discussion on whether women are “vulnerable” or “temporarily vulnerable” is insulting to me, someone who has been raped by a priest. It should be a question of whether the priest is unprofessional, unethical, criminal, and dangerous. Put the focus on the man who commits the abuse and not on the woman who is the victim. And I say “victim” because the clergyman is always in a more powerful position and especially in the case of Catholic priests is not even supposed to be sexually active, so there is a huge violation of trust for him to sexually approach anyone.
In conclusion, I hope the Catholic Church at some point affirms the dignity of women and removes the “Scarlet Letter” that we survivors of clergy sexual abuseas adultshave been wearing forever.
I am going to send you a copy of my recently published book:
If those at the Institute want to understand the story of one woman who was assaulted by a priest, I hope they read my book.
I received this timely reply from the Institute:
From: Institute of Anthropology Dignity and Care <email@example.com>
Date: Mon, Oct 18, 2021 at 12:35 AM
Subject: Re: for Rev. Zollner and IADC
Dear Mrs. Regina Wurst,
Fr. Zollner has received your email. At this point, it is difficult for him to reply in person because of the recent inauguration of the Institute and all what is connected to that.
We are very sorry if the interview has upset you. However, in the interview there was no special mention to women, but to vulnerable persons. And as the recent report on abuse committed in the Catholic Church in France has shown, the question is indeed not only whether a clergyman has abused, but also male or female laity in the church have been victims or perpetrators.
The article in AP could not reflect the whole conversation between Fr. Zollner and the journalists. In any case, there is an ongoing discussion on how to address this issue, also in different legal constituencies around the world.
There is no question that those who abuse sexually or in another way another person, be he or she, a minor or an adult, needs to be called by his or her name and must be prosecuted.
In this sense, we are looking forward to receiving your book. That will help us to deepen our understanding and inform our teaching.
Institute of Anthropology
Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care
Pontifical Gregorian University
Tel.: +39 06 40048453
In reaction to this letter from IADC, I take issue with their view that the AP interview “upset me.”I agree that “in the interview there was no special mention to women, but to vulnerable persons.” Exactly. That was my point. I can only claim I was abused if they judge that I was “vulnerable.” That is contorted logic.
Their letter also emphasized that“the question is indeed not only whether a clergyman has abused, but also male or female laity.”Well, yes, laity have abused, but I specifically want to keep my focus on priests, clericalism, and misogyny in the Church, as well as the requirement of celibacy which seems to exacerbate the problem of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church. Certainly, my abuser objected to celibacy when he called it “cultural imperialism” and stated that he could do whatever he wanted. I won’t accept that these issues are obfuscated and diffused.
I read in another article, though, that the IADC was beginning to look at the abuse of women, and adult men. They have started with the abuse of nuns and seminarians, and we can help them widen their viewpoints with our input.