As It Happens

Why this survivor quit the Pope's sex abuse commission in frustration

A leading member of a group advising Pope Francis on how to root out sex abuse in the Catholic Church quit Wednesday, citing "appalling" resistance from the Vatican.
Marie Collins has stepped down from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, saying the Vatican administration was stalling the group's efforts to protect children. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

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A leading member of a group advising Pope Francis on how to root out sex abuse in the Catholic Church quit Wednesday, saying the Vatican has the same "appalling" attitudes today as it did when she was abused as a child. 

"The work the commission was trying to do is to protect children from abuse, the kind of abuse I suffered myself," Marie Collins told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "That there are still men at that level in the church who would resist or hinder work to protect children in 2017, it's just not acceptable."

Some of these men, I think they just live in their own bubbles.- Marie Collins, abuse survivor 

The sudden departure of Collins, an outspoken Irish woman who was the last remaining survivor of priestly abuse on a Holy See commission, is a major setback for the Pope, who has faced criticism of not doing enough to tackle the problem.

The work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up by Francis in March 2014, has been slowed down by internal disputes and Collins blamed the Vatican's administration, known as the Curia.

"I mean, I could not, at this stage, see the same attitudes that I saw when I tried to bring my own abuse to my own diocese 20 years ago," Collins said. 

"The attitudes of the clerical men then, to see them still there now 20 years later, it's just appalling, it's dreadful."

Recommendations ignored

Collins said the curia regularly ignored or dismissed recommendations from the commission, even when they were backed by Pope Francis.

Those include an attempt to establish a tribunal to hear abuse allegations, and a recommendation that all correspondence to the Vatican from abuse victims should receive a response.

"Some of these men, I think they just live in their own bubbles, you know. They see the world only through the institutional eyes and the way they've always done things, and this is not an issue that you can do that with," Collins said.

Collins said the Vatican administration routinely ignored the commission's recommendations, even though they had the backing of Pope Francis. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Asked why she thinks the commission has been met with such resistance, Collins suggested the Vatican may see its members as "outsiders."

"They would see that they should have the job of doing this work as they've always done it, but we know how badly they handled this in the past so they needed outside experts to come in."

As for the Pope himself, Collins says she believes his heart is in the right place.

"He's backed everything we put before him, but it's just not as easy as it seems for a pope to get things done, particularly if there are people inside the curia working against him."

2nd abuse survivor to quit 

Thousands of cases of sexual and physical abuse of youths by priests have come to light around the world in recent years as investigations have encouraged long-silent victims to finally go public with their complaints.

Victim support groups have repeatedly attacked the Vatican for its response to the crisis since it first emerged in the United States in 2002, saying successive popes have failed to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Marie Collins, left, an Irish victim of clerical abuse, attends Penitential Vigil at St. Ignatius Church in downtown Rome on Feb. 7, 2012. Collins told As It Happens that men within the Vatican administration don't want to change how they do things in order to protect children from predators. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

In February last year Briton Peter Saunders, the only other member of the commission who had suffered clerical sexual abuse, left to take a leave of absence after repeatedly criticizing the commission's work. 

Saunders and Collins both threatened to resign as long ago as February 2015 unless bishops were made more accountable over cover-ups of rampant sexual abuse or failing to prevent it.

The Vatican said the Pope had accepted her resignation "with deep appreciation for her work on behalf of the victims/survivors of clergy abuse".

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who heads the commission, also thanked her for her work and said the commission would look at her concerns at a meeting next month.

With files from Reuters