ROME— According to Pope Francis’s right-hand man, a survivor of clerical sexual abuse who resigned earlier this week from a papal anti-abuse commission quit because she wanted to “shake the tree” in the Vatican.
Speaking to Crux, survivor Marie Collins had said some members of the Church’s governing body, known as the Roman Curia, have hindered and blocked the work being done by the commission. Talking to America magazine later on, she specifically named the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera quotes Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, as saying that there have been specific episodes which led Collins to take the step she did.
“For what I know, she has interpreted them as [lack of cooperation], and felt that the only way to act, even to ‘shake the tree’ a little, was to present her resignation,” Parolin said in Florence while attending a conference about Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
The cardinal also said that the Vatican’s commitment to reform continues, and that the commission will continue its work led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
“The commission itself doesn’t deal with sexual abuse, it’s the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that does this,” Parolin said. “[The commission] must worry, above all, about creating within the Church an environment that defends boys and girls, protects them, and doesn’t allow the recurrence of episodes of sexual abuse of minors.”
In her interview with America, Collins said that she believes Francis is committed to fighting clerical sexual abuse, and that she didn’t want to tar the whole Vatican with one brush because it wouldn’t be fair.
“There are many in the Vatican who are very open and cooperating with the commission and are asking for our training program to come to their departments,” she told long-time Vatican watcher Gerard O’Connell. “I think that is excellent. It shows their willingness to move forward.”
She quotes a decree from the Congregation for the Clergy stipulating that every seminary in the world must include child protection programs in their training for young seminarians, which Collins saw as a “very important step forward.”
“It’s not as if the commission has achieved nothing,” she said. “Much has been done and is being done. I would hate to suggest that everything is negative and dark, but that doesn’t mean that everything is right either.”
Collins also said that she believes the members of the commission are working as hard as they can, “but if the outside world thought everything was going well, then I think it’s a good thing that I have resigned and shown that it is not. It might move things forward more quickly than if I had stayed.”
Speaking to The Boston Globe, O’Malley defined Collin’s departure as a “blow to the commission,” but one which “increases our resolve to work harder for reform in the Church, and our particular area, which is one of prevention and promoting best practices and training bishops and church leadership.”
He also acknowledged that even though he’s incorporated people who’ve suffered from clerical sexual abuse in diocesan panels, he hadn’t anticipated “the kinds of pressure that survivors would be under” on a global stage at the Vatican.
On his recent appointment to the CDF, O’Malley said that he hoped it’d help improve “communication and cooperation.”
Father Hans Zollner, who like Collins and O’Malley has been a member of the commission from the beginning, told Vatican Radio that he believed her resignation was the result of accumulated frustrations which “a victim of abuse must feel, because she [or he] doesn’t see the speed, the consistency in the response, as she has said, in some offices of the Holy See.”
Zollner also said that with the Church being the largest and oldest institution in the world, with 1.3 billion members, it doesn’t “move from one day to the other, when speaking of changes in mentality.”
Yet, according to his experience after visiting over 40 countries in five continents, things are in fact changing. As an example, he says that in two weeks he’ll be in South Africa and Malawi, to countries where until not long ago, this issue was “taboo.”
Speaking to Crux last June, Zollner had argued that “global awareness” about sexual abuse of minors is growing, while cautioning there’s “a long way to go to put an end to this evil, which will continue for as long as human beings exist.”
Speaking of his decades-old experience fighting clerical sexual abuse, he had also admitted to being “frustrated” at the fact that in some Eastern European countries, as well as parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, there are still priests who see this as a “Western problem.”
“That’s frustrating, because this is an obvious denial of reality by people who should know better,” he said.
In recent days, Pope Francis drove some criticism, with a report alleging he was reducing punishment for priests found guilty of abusing children, sentencing them to a life of prayer and penance instead of defrocking them.
This has long been an argument within the Church, because a life of prayer and penance means they are removed from public ministry, allegedly no longer in a position to harm children but still under the Church’s supervision.
On the other hand, laicization, the correct term for defrocking, is the toughest possible penalty on a priest, but as O’Malley told the Globe, if carried out, the Church has “no possibility of monitoring his activity or having any kind of control over his behavior.”
“This is the issue — not that the Holy Father was returning anyone to ministry or backing down on zero tolerance,” O’Malley said. “He has been very, very clear about that.”
As Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin noted in a statement after Collins, an Irish lay woman, announced her resignation, she will continue her contribution to the Church by helping in the formation of priests and bishops.
“Despite opposition and resistance, she remained committed and constructive in what were for her good moments and bad moments,” Martin wrote.
“I have learned above all to see in her a person of integrity who is not afraid to chart her own course: where things were wrong she identified them and named them; when she felt uncomfortable she was never tempted to take the easy path and remain quiet and I am certain that will be her position in the future.”