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

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

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)