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Irish abuse victim lashes out at Vatican bureaucracy as she quits panel

Irish abuse victim Marie Collins, left, who has quit the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, looks at the commission head, Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, during their first briefing at the Holy See press office at the Vatican on May 3, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

ROME (RNS) Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins has accused the Vatican bureaucracy of “shameful” resistance to fighting clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church as she quit a key panel set up by Pope Francis.

In a major setback for the pope, Collins on Wednesday (March 1) announced that she had resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors established by the pontiff in 2013 to counter abuse in the church.

She said the pope’s decision to create the commission was a “sincere move” but there had been “constant setbacks” from officials within the Vatican.

“There are people in the Vatican who do not want to change or understand the need to change,” Collins said in a telephone interview from Dublin.

“I find it shameful,” Collins said. “The work we want to do is to make children and young adults now and in the future safer in the church environment from the horror of abuse.”

Collins, who was raped at age 13 by a hospital chaplain in Ireland, was the only active abuse survivor on the Vatican panel since British survivor Peter Saunders was sidelined last year for his outspoken criticism. Saunders has not resigned or been formally dismissed.

Collins said her decision had nothing to do with recent reports that the pope had softened his stance on punishment for abusive priests. She stressed that she actually lodged her resignation three weeks ago, although it was only announced on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reported on Saturday that the pope had overruled advice from within the Vatican to defrock several priests found guilty of abuse and had instead opted for a more merciful approach.

“I think he (Francis) is sincere about what he said about ‘zero tolerance’ and the horror of abuse,” Collins told RNS. Regarding clemency, she said the pope was “ill-advised” but he essentially had the “right attitude.”

She said it was “soul-destroying” dealing with resistance in the Curia, the Vatican administration. While she did not name the main curial department, or “dicastery,” to which she was referring, the commission was dealing chiefly with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“They are refusing to cooperate on letting us work with them,” Collins said. “I can’t stick with it anymore.”

The Vatican announced Collins’ resignation as she released her own statement on her personal website.

She described the blocking of “a simple recommendation approved by Pope Francis” by Vatican officials late last year as “the last straw” that led her to resign.

Collins informed the head of the commission, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, that she intended to resign on Feb. 13.

In a statement, O’Malley thanked Collins for her “extraordinary contributions.”

“We will certainly listen carefully to all that Marie wishes to share with us about her concerns and we will greatly miss her important contributions as a member of the Commission,” O’Malley said.

Since becoming pope four years ago, Francis has taken a strong stand on clerical sexual abuse and declared “zero tolerance” for abuse within the church.

But victims’ groups claim he has not done enough to hold bishops and priests to account for church abuse scandals that have emerged in Ireland, Germany, the U.S., Australia and other countries in the past 15 years.

Last year Francis approved tougher measures designed to make bishops more accountable for abusers and to mandate bishops’ removal if they’re found to be “negligent.”

In an interview with RNS last year, Collins expressed optimism about the panel’s work and specifically cited the commission’s participation in an orientation program for new bishops at the Vatican.

Collins said she would continue to work with O’Malley in an educational role on guidelines for new bishops.

(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.


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  • Well it did not take long for this committee to dissolve into irrelevance. We kind of knew this would happen, but always hoped for the best which is a committee who had the authority to do something substantial about the lingering abuses within the church. The RCC is the archetype of lip service on sexual abuse of children and the vulnerable. I thank Ms Collins for her time, effort, and dedication to relive her own experience through others who have become victims/survivors. Shame on the RCC, shame on all those who never wanted to allow this group to do their job, and shame on Francis.

  • The Vatican bureaucracy has for generations covered up an epidemic of clergy sexual abuse, misogyny, and paternalism. worldwide. Even in Spain we have a noted journalist, Pepe Rodriquez, publishing books on clerical sexual abuse of minors and coverups, and such books as “The Sex Life of the Clergy”: and “Fundamental Lies of the Catholic Church.” Then there is the Vatican’s total indifference toward women’s rights of conscience and religious liberty on reproductive issues. Most Catholics, of course, disapprove but their voices do not get heard in Rome.

  • If this kind of systematic abuse and cover up occurred in the Boy Scouts of America, for example, heads would roll from the top down, the police would cart off the offenders, financial support would reduced and the organization might not survive as members flee. Criminal to the highest degree. How many priests have actually been convicted in the history if the church? Silent Catholics have blood on their hands and should be ashamed.

  • But it DID occur in the BSA. And none of those things happened at all. JUst like the Roman Catholic Church, they covered up the abuse of boys by scout masters for decades, frequently returning the accused to the troops to do it again. And again. And again.

    There was an LA times article on the subject a couple of years back, but unfortunately, I didn’t keep it for my files.

    The saddest part of it, of course, was their insistence on blaming innocent people for the sins of the holy fathers. For decades, the scouts allowed no gay people in the organization at all. Scoutmasters especially were preferred to be married in order to establish their heterosexual cred. For decades they had an abuse problem, and for decades they covered it up. Who was doing the abuse? Men who would be considered by themselves, their families, their wives, their churches, and their communities to be heterosexual. Jerry Sandusky was not an outlier in the abuse problem, but the exemplar of it.

    I don’t remember the guys name, but a few years ago, a scoutmaster for the Berkeley sea scouts (I think) was convicted of sexual abuse of minors. He was one of the most vociferously anti-gay scoutmasters around. I have become increasingly convinced, as I have said elsewhere, that the vast majority of virulently anti-gay people, especially those in the church, are the most despicable creatures around: homosexual hating homosexuals, desperate to deflect attention from them selves, Desperate to convince anyone–especially themselves– that they are not the people that they despise. They exercise their own real demons by pretending to exorcise my wholly imaginary demons.

  • Abuse by the Roman Church’s clergy has been going on since before Canterbury Tales and was a factor for the popularity of the Reformation 500 years ago. Until this sect is governed by a transparent democratic process, these administrators will be sweeping problems under the rug forever

  • I wasn’t aware of a systemic problem. I guess the first rule, secular, religious or government is to cover up and protect the organization.

    I agree with the “me thinks he doth protest too much philosophy”.

  • Even older than Chaucer. Look up St. Peter Damian. Quite an eye opener about those whose profession is to close their eyes.

  • My heart breaks for Marie Collins and Peter Saunders. How enraging for abuse victims to be further used as window dressing for the disgusting RCC.

    “I think he (Francis) is sincere about what he said about ‘zero tolerance’ and the horror of abuse,” Collins told RNS. ”

    I disagree. If he was sincere he wouldn’t have decided to “show mercy” to the perps a week or so ago. Vatican Inc is so shameless it’s stunning. It is Creflo Dollar, Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen, Falwell Jr, Dobson Inc, Tony Perkins, etc., on a massive, world-wide scale.

  • From your lips to God’s ear, although the U.S. media will continue to spin this as the “bad Vatican” even though every single man in a decision-making capacity has been appointed by this pope.

  • The chief feature of the Vatican bureaucracy is its own preservation. I am not hopeful for any substantive change in the future. As for those who adhere to Roman Catholic doctrine and practice at the parish level, there are many good priests and lay members serving both Church and community. I suspect, by way of a general human tendency, the higher one climbs in a hierarchal body, the more one loses touch with what brought them in at the beginning. At the same time, I applaud both RNS for the stories they’ve shared about the nuns around the world working in the most hellish locations to minister to people in great need both spiritually and materially, and of course the nuns themselves. The Sisters laboring on behalf of orphans in Aleppo, Syria; The Sisters working and teaching practical, marketable skills to the women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and who are threatened and abused by power hungry warlords; and those other Sisters whose efforts span the globe. These worthy women deserve our prayers and praise despite the ossified oligarchy that makes up the leadership of their Church.

  • You are always a kind person, Edward. I can respect those nuns while wanting nothing to do with their church.

    Today it was reported that Cardinal Timothy Dolan is dealing with a hundred million dollar mortgage to help compensate abuse victims in NYC.

    One hundred million dollars here, one hundred million dollars there, and pretty soon ,we’re talking real money.

  • As they have demonstrated time and again, the organization is corrupt beyond repair. They should be tried under organized crime laws, disbanded, and the Vatican can become a museum. A very nice museum.

  • Francis is a flash in the pan. The Catholic church will not be reformed. It exists for the glory of its bishops. They are more valued than truth, God or justice.

  • He looks at the shrinking number of priests. Keeping the number of priest from sinking to unworkable lows is his first priority The Catholic church cannot survive with priests and they are disappearing fast.

  • An old saw, but apt and appropriate. Since your own perspective is that organized religion is about power, money, and dominion (I believe that’s how you put it), perhaps the financial pain directed to the RCC will be the lever to move the Church from its sloth, indifference, and historical unaccountability in these and other matters.

  • Actually, Edward, I DON’T believe that organized religion is about power, money, and dominion. I do believe that the more religion involves itself in politics, the more it insists on placing purely theological concerns into the civil law that governs all of us, the more likely it is to be about power money and dominion. It is usually conservative religion that wants to do this.

    Here is the perfect example of this. Last year, in response to a lawsuit that reached the BElize Supreme Court, the sodomy laws of Belize,a leftover from the days when it was British Honduras, were finally dispensed with. Conservative religious groups are attempting to get the Supreme Court to reinstate the laws. Why? Because they believe homosexuality is a sin, and unless that sin is criminalized, people might actually be gay– and without their permission. Why not just make atheists into criminals, given that atheists reject the entirety of the religious belief?

    Closer to home, we have the antics of the professionally religious on the conservative side of the coin, who, despite their claims to be interested in morality of their candidates, voted in large numbers for Grabby McPussy, thushoping to be able to establish dominion over the lives of gay people, atheists, and uppity women.

  • I defer to your correction on the question on money, power and dominion with respect to religion. As far as the President is concerned, he has declared gay marriage to be “settled law, or so it has been reported. For my own part I know of no campaigns against atheists, though I acknowledge the conflict between feminists and non-feminists will continue. As I’ve stated before, I voted for Trump most reluctantly as a protest vote against Mrs. Clinton, not because she is a women, but because I think her ethics and moral character are at least as questionable as Mr. Trump if not more, but as Oregon went with it’s few electoral votes (7) for Mrs. Clinton, my vote had no impact on the result. As to the professionally religious, there were several who actively declared that from the Christian perspective a vote for Mr. Trump was not in order. I grant that many of the most prominent among Christian leaders did in fact endorse Mr. Trump. I can only say that we are only a handful of weeks into the current administration and really have yet to see what will come, though I realize many already are unhappy with the administration with respect to the issue of immigration.

  • Obviously, you don’t the believe the allegation that surfaced against Fr. Drinan because liberals just don’t do those types of things.

    Of course, you don’t think Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry should report sex abuse to the authorities.

    Wasn’t it Gloria Steinem who asked the U.S. Senate to go easy on Bob Packwood because his pro-abortion voting record?

    As an ACLU member, would you have reported Charles Rust-Tierney, the president of the Virginia ACLU, to the police for possessing child pornography?

    It seems like an odd question, but the ACLU supports only banning the production of child pornography but believes its publication, dissemination, and possession are protected by the First Amendment.

    If any fundamentalist or evangelical Christian were to say what you wrote, you and your left-wing allies would him of anti-Catholicism.

  • Cavalli’s comments are becoming increasingly unhinged. What;s this about Fr Drinan? I’ve seen no such reports.

  • If you check Washington, D.C. newspapers from the late 1940s, you might learn of child abuse allegations made against the Rev. C. Stanley Lowell, a Methodist minister and longtime Americans United associate director. His first wife sued him for divorce after she caught him in bed with another woman. Lowell admitted he spanked his children “to do them good” but denied his wife’s allegations of brutality such as throwing one of his sons down a flight of stairs.

    Given Lowell’s extremism and bigotry, such as his famous quote that the Catholic hierarchy was more “dangerous” and “clever” than Communists and his repulsive pamphlet, “No! I Will Not Send My Child to a Catholic School,” it seems he had a nasty temper.

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