National Catholic Reporter
Mar. 1, 2017|
Marie Collins (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)
In a separate exclusive statement for NCR explaining her choice, Collins says she decided to leave the commission after losing hope that Vatican officials would cooperate with its work following a failure to implement a series of recommendations.
Collins says her decision to resign was immediately precipitated by one Vatican office’s refusal to comply with a request from the commission, approved by the pope, that all letters sent to the Vatican by abuse survivors receive a response.
“I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters!” Collins writes in the statement.
“When I accepted my appointment to the Commission in 2014 I said publicly that if I found what was happening behind closed doors was in conflict with what was being said to the public I would not remain,” she states. “This point has come. I feel I have no choice but to resign if I am to retain my integrity.”
Collins is the third of Francis’ 17 original appointees to the commission to leave its work. The only other abuse survivor on the commission, Englishman Peter Saunders, was placed on leave from the group in February 2016, because of friction between Saunders and other members of the commission.
Claudio Papale, an official at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, resigned from the commission in May 2016. His resignation was not initially made public. Upon inquiry from NCR at the time, a commission spokesperson said Papale had resigned for personal reasons.
In a statement Wednesday, the commission said it had “deep appreciation” for Collins’ work. In her own press statement Collins said she would continue to work with the group in helping with training projects for priests and bishops.
Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the head of the commission, said in a statement that he had expressed to Collins “our most sincere thanks for the extraordinary contributions she has made as a founding member.”
“With the members of the Commission I am deeply grateful for Marie’s willingness to continue to work with us in the education of church leaders, including the upcoming programs for new bishops and for the dicasteries of the Holy See,” said O’Malley. “Our prayers will remain with Marie and with all victims and survivors of sexual abuse.”
Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, an expert on the church’s response to clergy sexual abuse, said in an interview that he thought Collins’ resignation would cause the commission to lose trustworthiness among survivors and advocates who have pushed for decades for the church to better protect vulnerable people.
“Its credibility … is going to take a nosedive,” said Doyle. “If they don’t have a survivor on that commission, it’s like if the board of directors of the American Medical Association [is] only made up of bureaucrats and no doctors.”
“Here you have an issue that really has to have input from survivors,” he said. “Quite frankly, the clerical world does not understand what this is all about.”
Krysten Winter-Green, a member of the abuse commission, said in an interview that she finds it “difficult to conceptualize a commission of this nature without the benefit of the voice of survivors or victims.”
“I think it will take some time to really look at the composition of this commission and forge a path ahead,” said Winter-Green, a native New Zealander who lives in the U.S. and provides consulting services for religious congregations.
Saunders did not reply to a request for comment regarding his current status on the commission.
In her March 1 statement for NCR, Collins also expresses frustration that a sample template of guidelines for safeguarding children developed by the commission has not yet been published. She says that a Vatican office had created its own sample template and refused to join efforts.
Collins also mentions the commission’s request, approved by the pope, that the Vatican create a new tribunal to judge bishops who act inappropriately in sexual abuse cases. While that tribunal was announced by O’Malley in June 2015, it was never created.
In place of the proposed tribunal, Francis signed a new universal law for the church in June 2016 specifying that a bishop’s negligence in response to clergy sexual abuse can lead to his removal from office.
The law, given the name Come una madre amorevole (“As a loving mother”), also empowers four Vatican dicasteries to investigate such bishops and initiate processes of their removal.
Winter-Green echoed Collins’ frustration with the reluctance of Vatican offices to work with the abuse commission.
“I think there’s been a lack of cooperation, I would say, by some dicasteries in the curia,” she said. “I really do not know where it comes from, but I do know that it does a grave disservice to survivors and victims and it doesn’t really promote the healing and care that the commission is about.”
“If this commission is going to really accomplish what His Holiness wants it to accomplish, then I think we need to take a very, very serious look at where we are presently and where we see this commission going in the future,” said Winter-Green.
Doyle said he thinks the commission needs to be given the power to rewrite its mandate in order to be more effective.
“They are a consultative commission,” he said. “They have no power. There has to be some mechanism where they can get by the curia and … get things done.”
Asked what she might say to an abuse survivor who thinks it is not appropriate for a Vatican commission on abuse to not have a member who is a survivor, Winter-Green responded: “I would have to agree.”
“I would strongly encourage survivor participation,” she said. “In fact, I would go so far as to say I would insist on survivor participation.”
Marie Collins said the lack of cooperation has been ‘shameful’
Ms Collins became a household name almost two decades ago when she challenged the late Cardinal Desmond Connell’s failure to report to gardaí her abuse in childhood by a priest of his diocese.
She was one of a number of survivors who persuaded the cardinal to establish a child protection office and three years ago was recommended for appointment to Pope Francis’ unprecedented Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Speaking on RTÉ News at One, Ms Collins said she resigned from the panel because she could not at this point “accept there are still men in the Vatican, still men in those positions, who would resist the work to protect children”.
She said: “They still have the attitudes of 20 years ago, when I was dealing here with the Dublin Diocese, the same sort of attitudes.”
She said it came to the point where she could not stay any longer if she wanted to retain her integrity. She said her decision to resign was “extremely difficult”, adding “I was sad to go, but I did my best.”
In her letter of resignation, which was sent two weeks ago to Pope Francis but published today, Ms Collins said she believed the pope had acted sincerely when he set up the panel.
“However, despite the Holy Father approving all the recommendations made to him by the commission, there have been constant setbacks,” she said in a statement.
They have been directly due to the resistance by some members of the Vatican Curia – or administration – to the panel’s work, she said.
In a thinly-veiled reference, she highlights as “shameful” the obstruction of the particularly influential Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which Pope Benedict put in charge of assessing all abuse allegations.
She adds that she has happily accepted an invitation from the head of the commission, Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley, to continue to be part of training projects, including courses for the Curia and new bishops.
Ms Collins said members of the commission were seen as outsiders, when the commission was “trying so hard to work as part of the church, with the church to change the culture in the church and to bring protection to the people who need it in the church.”
Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has paid tribute to Ms Collins’ integrity and to her achievements as an advocate for survivors.
In a statement coinciding with Ms Collins’ resignation, Dr Martin said that few people in Ireland have made such a consistent contribution to the change in the church’s response to child sexual abuse.
His statement does not refer explicitly to her decision to step down. However, referring to her role to date, he said that “despite opposition and resistance, she remained committed and constructive in what were for her good moments and bad moments”.
Dr Martin said abuse victims and survivors owe Ms Collins an enormous debt, but said she was never one to seek praise or affirmation for herself.
He expressed his happiness at her commitment to continue contributing to church life and thanked her for the contribution she has made to the Archdiocese of Dublin and the support she has given him personally.
Meanwhile, the One in Four organisation has said the many survivors in Ireland who want to remain Catholics will be disappointed and distressed at the resignation.
Wednesday 1 March 2017 14.33 GMT
Marie Collins says the commission haS suffered constant setbacks at the hands of the Vatican’s administration. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters
A prominent survivor of clerical sex abuse has resigned from a special Vatican commission that was created by Pope Francis to tackle the problem, saying the church’s most senior clerics continue to put “other concerns” before the safety of children and vulnerable adults.
Marie Collins, who was molested by a priest when she was 13 years old, said in a written statement she had made a final decision to resign after she learned that a Vatican department was failing to comply with a basic new recommendation that all correspondence from victims and survivors should receive a response.
“I learned in a letter from this particular [congregation] last month that they are refusing to do so,” Collins wrote in a searing statement to the National Catholic Reporter.
“I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters.”
She added: “It is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”
Collins’s resignation represents a devastating indictment of the church’s handling of sexual abuse under Pope Francis. For years since her 2014 appointment to the commission, she has been critical of the church’s slow response to issues around clerical sex abuse but has stood by the work of the commission and the pope’s commitment to coming to grips with the problem.
But on Wednesday, Collins, an Irish national, described a church bureaucracy that was unwilling to cooperate with a commission that had not been provided with enough resources, had inadequate support staff and faced intense cultural resistance within the church despite having had the backing of the pope.
“I have come to the point where I can no longer be sustained by hope. As a survivor I have watched events unfold with dismay,” Collins said in her statement.
Collins’s decision to leave the commission comes one year after the only other abuse survivor who was appointed to the commission, Peter Saunders, was forced to take a leave of absence after he complained the commission was doing far too little to tackle abuse.
Collins said one of the reasons she decided to resign was the Vatican’s failure to establish a tribunal recommended by the commission to hold negligent bishops to account when they ignored reports of abuse. Even though the idea was backed by Francis and announced in June 2015, it was found to have unspecified legal difficulties by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church body that primarily deals with abuse accusations.
In another case, “safeguarding guidelines” that were developed by the commission to be used by bishops’ conferences around the world as a basis to draw up their own policies on abuse had not been disseminated to the appropriate officials, whom Collins said were “refusing to cooperate with the commission”.
Collins said the refusal was unacceptable. “Is this reluctance 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 or a clinging to old institutional attitudes?” she wrote.
“I do not 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.”
Collins said the piling on of concerns about the church’s reluctance ultimately led her to believe she could no longer serve on the commission and maintain her integrity.
She said she had never had the opportunity to speak to Pope Francis during her three-year tenure, but that if she had she would have asked him for three things: that the commission be given the power to implement their recommendations; that it be given more funds to do its work; and to lift the ban on recruiting professional staff from outside the church to work on the issue.
Greg Burke, a spokesman for the pope, declined to comment.
Sean O’Malley, a Boston cardinal who has spearheaded abuse issues, said in a statement he was thankful for Collins’s work and would pray for her and all victims and survivors of sexual abuse.