Leading member of pope's sex abuse panel quits, says Vatican is stonewalling

Marie Collins complains of 'resistance' within Holy See and refusals to follow pope's orders

March 02, 2017

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Abuse survivor quits Pope's commission on protection of minors  0:26

​Frustrated by what she described as Vatican stonewalling, an Irish woman who was sexually abused by clergy quit her post Wednesday on a panel advising Pope Francis about how to protect minors from such abuse.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said Marie Collins quit out of "frustration" at an alleged lack of co-operation from other Vatican offices, known as the Curia. Her departure delivered another blow to the Vatican's insistence that it is working to ensure that no more children are abused by predator priests.


'These men still… put other concerns before the safety of children.' — Marie Collins

Collins, in a statement carried by the National Catholic Reporter, was damning in her criticism. She decried the "cultural resistance" at the Vatican that she said included some officials refusing the pope's instructions to reply to all correspondence from abuse survivors.

"I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those who lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation [office] in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge these letters!" Collins said in her statement.

She called "the reluctance of some in the Vatican Curia to implement recommendations or co-operate" with the panel aiming to better protect against abuse by priests "unacceptable."

Pope Francis set up the commission three years ago, saying its job was to "propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the church."

Marie Collins, right, seen here with Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley in 2014, issued a litany of complaints about 'reluctance' to act within the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. (Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press)

Systematic coverup

A systematic coverup by bishops and other hierarchy in many dioceses around the world over decades compounded the crimes of pedophile priests who raped children and committed other sexual abuses.

Collins wondered if the continuing reluctance to address the problem is "driven by internal politics, fear of change, clericalism which instills a belief that 'they know best' or a closed mindset which sees abuse as an inconvenience?"

Collins said she didn't know the answer "but it is devastating in 2017 to see that these men still can put other concerns before the safety of children and vulnerable adults."

The commission's statement said Pope Francis "accepted Mrs. Collins' resignation with deep appreciation for her work on behalf of the victims/survivors of clergy abuse."

The panel's president, Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, said in a statement issued by the Vatican that "we will greatly miss her important contributions" as a commissioner member.

Boston is one of the more prominent dioceses where hierarchy tried to hide clergy abuse by shuttling pedophile priests from parish to parish.

Pope Francis looks on at a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in 2013. The pontiff set up the commission three years ago to 'do everything possible' to prevent sex abuse within the church. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

Same attitudes

Collins didn't immediately respond to a phone request for comment.

Her litany of complaints included the failure of the Vatican to put into place a tribunal that could hold bishops accountable for negligence in handling sex abuse within their dioceses, a commission recommendation that was approved by Francis in 2015.

Collins expressed disappointment that the pontiff has in some cases reduced sanctions for convicted perpetrators of child sex abuse. Still, she said, "I believe the pope does at heart understand the horror of abuse and the need for those who hurt minors to be stopped."

Collins noted she never had the opportunity to sit down with the pope to talk during her three years on the commission.

The Irish Times quoted Collins Wednesday as saying the attitudes she saw at the Vatican during her work on the panel are "the same attitudes I saw 20 years ago when I was trying to bring my own case to justice here in Dublin. That's what's really the most shocking."

Collins was sexually abused by a priest when she was an adolescent.

The only other abuse survivor who had served on the commission, Peter Saunders, a British advocate for victims, was sidelined last year by the panel after clashing with it over its mission. Saunders, who was given a leave of absence, has said he has lost faith in the pope's ability to deal with the problem.

A demonstrator opposes the visit of Francis's predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in Berlin in 2011. Benedict had appealed to Catholics not to leave the church in Germany, where record numbers of the faithful quit in protest against clerical sex abuse scandals. (Petr Josek/Reuters)

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