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Clergy abuse survivor says Vatican commission is making progress

Marie Collins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, speaks during its briefing at the Holy See press office at the Vatican on May 3, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The only abuse survivor currently serving on a panel set up by Pope Francis to fight clerical sexual abuse says the Catholic Church is making good progress and welcomed changes initiated by the Vatican and the pontiff.

Marie Collins, who was raped at age 13 by a hospital chaplain in Ireland, is a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

“I have complained about slowness and frustration in the past,” Collins told RNS this week. “From my point of view as a survivor, I would like everything to happen tomorrow.”

But, she continued, “We have had some really positive moves.”

Collins, who has said she would quit the panel if she did not see substantive reforms, specifically cited the commission’s participation in an orientation program for new bishops at the Vatican last week.

She also pointed to a papal decree issued in June by Francis and designed to make bishops more accountable for abusers and to mandate their removal if found to be “negligent” — something that had not happened before. 

“It (the decree) covers more than the bishops, it covers the religious superiors as well,” she said. “We have abuses in the religious (orders), as well as the dioceses, so it’s a wider reach.”


READ: Pope Francis decrees removal of bishops negligent in sex abuse


Francis has also approved a request that each country’s hierarchy should establish a national day of prayer for victims.

The pope also suspended the archbishop of Guam when he was accused of abusing altar boys years ago and sent a Vatican delegate to investigate; the delegate, an archbishop, this week said that the Guam prelate should be permanently removed and that he will be subject to a church trial.

But not everyone is satisfied.

Peter Saunders, a British victim of clerical sexual abuse who had been on the Vatican panel but was sidelined by the commission earlier this year, said this week he was “too outspoken” to be reinstated.

In February the Holy See announced that Saunders, who was abused by Jesuit priests as a teenager, had taken a “leave of absence” from the commission.

Saunders, the only other survivor of clerical sexual abuse appointed to the commission, said he had asked to return to the panel but his request had been rejected.

“I was asked to take a leave of absence,” Saunders told RNS. “I am too outspoken. 

“I asked if they would have me back but the answer was ‘no.’ So I’m waiting on written confirmation that they don’t want me back!”

Saunders generated headlines around the world when he criticized Australian Cardinal George Pell in a TV interview for his “lack of sympathy, empathy, or any kind of understanding or concern” for victims of clerical abuse.

He said Pell’s behavior was “almost sociopathic” and demanded the pope dismiss him from his position as the Vatican’s chief financial officer.

At the time Saunders was put on leave, the head of the commission, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said Saunders had been asked to consider establishing a victim survivor panel to work with the advisory body.

“I have not been dismissed but I told them that I would be prepared to speak to the pope about this and the pope could sack me,” Saunders said Tuesday (Sept. 20). “I am expecting to be dismissed one way or the other.”

But a spokeswoman for the Vatican commission, Emer McCarthy, said Saunders had not been dismissed.

“We will all have to decide the best way to move forward,” she said. “He hasn’t been dismissed. He hasn’t resigned.”

McCarthy confirmed that another panel member, Claudio Papale, an Italian who teaches canon law at the Pontifical University Urbaniana, had resigned in May, though his resignation was for personal reasons.

She said it was up to the pope to accept Papale’s resignation and decide whether he should be replaced.

Excluding Papale and Saunders, the commission now has 15 active members, mainly lay people, including two nuns.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

19 Comments

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  • The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was created by Pope Francis in March of 2014.
    2-1/2 years of effort yields results that are revealing.

    The results show even the most optimistic among us that this “Papal Commission” was, from it’s inception, just another Vatican illusion to trick it’s audience into believing that Francis and church leaders sincerely desire real reform.
    2-1/2 years…………..
    Not one child is safer.
    Not one bishop punished,.

    Pope Francis actions do not line up with his words. He gave the repulsive child molester protector Belgium’s Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the honor of leading the Synod on family. Francis showed us all that not only will he protect bishops with dirty records he will reward them with honors and promotions. He rewarded Barros with a promotion in Chile. There are several very credible allegations that he covered up for proven pedophile priest Kardima. At the very least Francis could have called for an investigation into Barros and the several credible allegations about his knowledge and protection of Kardima. One very credible victim claims Barros was in the room as he was being sexually assaulted by Kardima.
    Concerned Catholics and priests in Chile protested the promotion but were ignored by Francis.
    Francis, unaware that he was being recorded on a Vatican tourists cell phone video, called those concerned Catholics, leftists and stupid.
    This is from a newspaper in Chile.Today 09/21/2016
    “The Vatican has declined to provide information to secular authorities in Chile regarding Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno. It has been alleged that he witnessed abuse by priest Fernando Karadima. So much for Pope Francis and his promise to be open, honest and provide complete transparency.

    Many of Francis actions including his refusal to meet with victims in his last position and his actions throughout the Barros promotion show that he has a disdain for victims of sexual abuse and that protecting his friends and fellow bishops is a priority for him.
    A year and a half ago Francis announced the creation of a tribunal to hold cases to punish bishops. Turns out the bishops running the CDF did not think bishops should ever be punished so after 18 months of stonewalling Francis cancelled his tribunal.
    The Papal Commission is celebrating because Francis put another procedure in place to punish bishops.
    Just because he put another procedure in place for him to punish bishops does not mean that he will actually use it. He always had the power to punish bishops but only used his power when church money was involved. He quickly ousted the bishop of bling for his lavish spending. These monsters treat the rape of children as a minor mistake or a sin. OOP’s Fr. Peter Phile made another mistake but he went to confession, all is good.
    Francis has given a pass to the many men who knowingly put children in harms way causing the needless destruction of lives just to protect the reputation of a church and to keep donations flowing.

    2-1/2 years………..
    Law, Mahony, Nienstedt and Finn are still bishops in good standing and
    receiving the perks that the princes of this organization demand.
    The only thing Francis is very serious about in relation to accountability for bishops is his desire to protect them from any.

    It is morally repugnant that this organization continues to use a victim
    of clergy abuse to give this commission the appearance of legitimacy and
    sincerity.

    Marie Collins is drunk on the Vatican Kool-Aid. She let down the victims of Milwaukee and her fellow victim Peter Saunders.

    Peter Saunders expected the truth and for church leaders to act in accordance to what they say. For this he was ousted.

    2-1/2 years ………..
    Marie Collins, who has let this victim down before, now gives us her big accomplishment, a day of prayer. A day of prayer for victims is akin to a kick into the groin of victims. The commission proposed day of prayer has been approved by Pope Francis. Just what we need from an organization who will continue fighting us on the very day after they pray for us.

    This organizations actions clearly show that it refuses to sincerely deal with this issue. People in the pews keep funding their bishops legal coffers allowing this “church” to keep acting as it wants, giving it the silent approval and the funds to fight any outside pressure to come clean and reform. The funds to battle victims with legitimate claims using slimy and protracted legal strategies and to keep secret the files that contain the names of dangerous priests.

  • Well said! Just to add my two cents, the Wesolowski trial (?) vs. the Vatileaks 2 trial. Pretty obvious what is important to that gang.

  • Thank you!!
    How could I leave out protecting pedophile Wesolowski by sneaking him back to the Vatican to avoid true justice for the molestation of Dominican Republic children. While awaiting the Faux Vatican trial Francis allowed Wesolowski, a known danger to children, his freedom, the Vatican lied stating that he was under house arrest. He was seen wandering around Rome all alone. He also downloaded scores of child porn while in the “custody” of the Vatican. Francis and church leaders do not give a rip about our childrens safety. They care about their special kind of justice like Vatileaks2 keeping dirty secrets and keeping assets away from those whose lives were destroyed.

  • There was something recently on Bishop Acc. site re. the Wesolowski case on one of the Dominican Republic publications but it was in Spanish. Would you know what it was?

  • I do not but I will try to find out. I will let you know. Just today the Vatican refused to give any information to Chilean authorities about Barros.

  • Gee, while we were discussing international cover-ups yesterday, apparently there was another one taking place in the USA in Chicago, the land of ‘zero tolerance’. Another missing laptop with child porn! Smells like Finn…land. Where do these missing laptops go? Duh.

  • “The pope also suspended the archbishop of Guam when he was accused of abusing altar boys years ago and sent a Vatican delegate to investigate; the delegate, an archbishop, this week said that the Guam prelate should be permanently removed and that he will be subject to a church trial.”

    This is such crap! Why is that criminal not in prison awaiting CIVIL trial as an accessory to the crime, or something similar. Church punishment such as removal from a post is not adequate. Civil criminal trials led by topnotch civil prosecutors is what is called for By LAW.

    I live in Minnesota, home of the notorious and shamelessly disgusting Neinstadt. Local police and prosecutors in Ramsey County, where the seat of the archdiocese is located, coincidently my home, negotiated with the diocese, made deals, to get cooperation.

    WTH! You get a subpoena, go into those offices and various buildings and Take what is warranted. That’s followed by Arresting, Fingerprinting, Mugshotting, and Jailing criminal suspects, including Neinstadt, until bond hearing. The newspapers investigate, and publish stories with accompanying mugshots.

    Guess what my sister and brother commenters – None of that happened. Instead, the archdiocese people were politely allowed to decide if and to what extent they would accommodate the “requests” of the prosecutor’s office. Neinstadt put on his prettiest outfit of full regalia and, holding the official staff close to his head so it appeared in all video feeds, deigned to give a very brief comment with a variety of his favorite religious symbols in the background. Disgusting

    Sickening. Those guys are simply common criminals in fancy dresses and funny hats.

  • Church officials who steal money from the church are fired immediately. Church officials who rape children or facilitate child rapists are rewarded with prestigious jobs at the Vatican free from extradition.

    Do the math.

    They continue to fightexpansion of statutes of limitations.

    But they will pray for victims. Wow. Just wow. And people continue to believe their nonsense and give them money.

  • It gives me hope to read your comment. I feel the outrage in your words.

    This organization keeps committing crimes and they continue to cover up said crimes, at the same time pretending to be holy men and moral authorities. It is despicable to hide behind religion while acting like the mafia. This organization should be subject to the Rico act.

    Where is the outrage from the Catholics sitting in the pews. The ridiculous faux punishment given to many priests that raped children was to be removed from ministry to live a life of prayer and penance. What a crock. Room and board is taken care of plus they continue receiving their paycheck.

    Where is the outrage at bishops like Nienstadt whose self protective acts destroyed innocent children. Now he gets paid and remains a bishop in good standing given all of the perks these arrogant princes demand.
    John Choi is no doubt a devout Catholic and he should be in jail for corruption. The archdiocese called the shots while being prosecuted for crimes. What a disgusting mess.

    Thank you for calling it what it is. When will Catholics in the pews wake up and stop giving their money to these criminals that refuse to act in accordance to who and what they claim to be?

  • Thanks Danny, and agreed about Choi. He tiptoed politely around Neinstadt and the rest of those criminals.

    I don’t get it about the Catholics in the pews either. I know some of them personally. They are passionate about caring for children, but continue to put money in the plate, pay school tuition to RCC schools on all levels, etc. WTF are they thinking?! If they’re going to continue to finance a highly organized, world-wide pedophile cartel then shut the hell up about children.

  • The Chicago archdiocese claims in their statement that they promptly reported the crime of child pornography to the police. This was an ENORMOUS LIE.

    They reported it weeks after the issue was brought to their attention. The priest/rector that was replacing the pervert priest and an archdiocese employee saw a black Sony laptop running in the pedophile priests apartment which displayed a web cam video of a child involved in a sex act.

    The employee said that he thought the new rector was going to report it but found out a week later he did not. The rector should be fired for doing what many priests do, look the other way and protect their brother clergy.
    The employee reported it a week after it happened.

    The archdiocese immediately called (not the police) but a private investigator paid by the archdiocese using donations of the faithful to investigate this repulsive crime.
    (Their own rules say they are required to immediately call the police.)

    How has self investigation worked for this organization before?
    This organization should never again be allowed to self investigate and police itself.

    The private investigators asked the pervert priest for all of his electronic devices.
    Shocking as it may seem the pervert did not hand over the Sony laptop to the private investigators.

    I assume some info leaked and at least a week later they call the police who execute a search warrant and take all electronics but surprisingly the laptop was no where to be found.

    That is a shocking revelation since the pervert was tipped off by the private investigators that they were looking for a Sony laptop. Or just maybe the missing laptop is in the secret vault at the archdiocese chancery. Bishop Finn in KC. also had a problem with disappearing laptops containing disgusting evidence.

    I ask this important question to all Catholics………..
    Why would a church who claims to be poor, spend what little money it has on an expensive private investigation of a serious crime when the police will do a truly thorough and independent investigation for no charge?

    The only logical answer is that they desire to collect and control the evidence, to minimize and/or control the outcome, to protect the priest and/or to cover up the crime completely.

    How long will people in the pews allow church leaders to lie to them? “we promptly reported this crime to law enforcement”
    How long will they continue to stand for having their donations spent on expensive and secretive private investigations…………. and on legal efforts to keep secret documents of dangerous priests………… and on expensive legal strategies to stonewall victims and other legal efforts to prevent justice for victims with credible allegations of sexual assault by clergy.

    How many Catholics will call the bishop and ask what is being done with the rector who did not report the child pornography that he saw running on his fellow priests Sony laptop?

  • The Minnesota story is a microcosm of the core problem in the child abuse situation in our country…our justice system. I read every legal document posted in that case. At the very least, there should be perjury charges as time after time church officials lied when their own ‘secret’ documents told the truth. And it is not just churches that get a pass on the SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN i.e. the felony charges against the Penn State enablers were quietly dropped.
    Sickening is not a strong enough word for how we care about children in this country. Money and power rule the day when it comes to justice for our children.
    The only good thing that came out of the Minnesota story is that there are still heroic individuals that will put their lives on the line to protect the most vulnerable among us. Where is Jennifer Haselberger’s ‘Purple Heart’?

  • Here is another one for you. This is just a reposting from several years ago. I asked the quediton. Someone else answered it.

    Re: “…I wish I could find the name of that Belgian archbishop who said a few years ago that there was nothing wrong with seeking comfort with children, as he so charmingly put it.”

    Roger Bishop Vangheluwe, a Belgian-bishop-theologian, allegedly went on a
    Belgium talk show a few years ago and stated he, ‘didn’t see any crime relating
    to his involvement’, with his two nephews, who were preteen-children during the
    bad shepherd’s grooming/sexual assault, etc.!

    As I am a secular pedophile survivor, engaged in the life-long reparative of reading http://www.bishopaccountability.org, (specifically I read the ‘current events’ archive), I’m aware of this bishop,who is allegedly under a post tv-interview, (papal – demanded) vow of silence
    in a Belgium monastery…

    That is…

    Like Bishop Finn, (who protected Fr. Shaun Ratigan’s ‘pedophile-voyeuristic-videotaping’ habits…here is (another R.C.C.), clerical-man who got away with criminal sexual aggression practiced against children!

  • Nienstedt– why I think of slime when I hear the name.

    Virulently antigay, yet, I believe, credibly charged with having his hands down the cookie jar’s pants. When John Nienstedt resigned as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis last June, he left the Archdiocese in bankruptcy and under a criminal investigation that I believe continues to this day.

    Nienstedt, who paid GAWD knows how much money– hundreds of thousands, millions?– to produce an anti-gay marriage video, because GAWD knows that better children should starve than I should get married.

  • Same thoughts here Ben. That ridiculous anti-gay DVD shredded whatever credibly Neinstadt had left among the majority of RCC in the archdiocese. Recipients of that nasty propaganda did all kinds of creative things with them: Art displays, targets at the local shooting range, etc. It turned into a big negative for him.

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