A survivor of clerical sexual abuse and a former member of a panel created by Pope Francis to lead the reform effort said Monday that while she’s grateful for positive things the pope said about her over the weekend, she also wants the commission to push back against perceived Vatican resistance to reform that she insists led her to resign.
Marie Collins, an Irish lay woman, told “The Crux of the Matter” on the Catholic Channel, carried by Sirius XM, “If resistance continues, then the commission itself should speak. It shouldn’t be up to one member having to resign to make it public.
“If there is resistance, it’s got to be overcome, because there’s no place for resistance to change when it comes to child protection,” Collins said.
During his return flight from a trip to Fatima on Saturday, Pope Francis was asked about Collins’s resignation from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a body he created to advise him on reform efforts regarding clerical sexual abuse.
“Marie Collins explained things to me well,” he said. “I’ve spoken with her: She’s a great woman. She continues to work on the formation of priests on this point. She’s a great woman, who wants to work.
“She’s right on some things,” Francis acknowledged.
Although Francis said that he had spoken to Collins, she told Crux they’ve never actually had a conversation beyond shaking hands, although she did send him a detailed letter explaining the reasons for her resignation.
Collins admitted to being a little stunned by what the pope had to say.
“I suppose I was knocked over by it a little bit at first, because it’s not every day of the week that the pope actually speaks about you!”
She also said his words meant the world to her.
“When I resigned, and made the criticisms I did about the resistance I felt was there and the lack of cooperation with the pontifical commission, there were some in the Vatican who would have thought I was just being negative or trying to damage the Church in some way,” Collins said.
“The fact that the pope himself spoke about me as he did, and obviously doesn’t see me as an enemy, or somebody trying to do damage, meant a great deal to me,” she said.
Going forward, Collins flagged two areas in which she believes work remains to be done in terms of promoting child protection: First, achieving reasonably uniform global standards for abuse prevention and response; and second, implementing meaningful measures for holding bishops accountable when they drop the ball.
“We’re told the powers are there, but they don’t appear to be being used,” she said, regarding bishops’ accountability. “I haven’t seen any bishop being removed or disciplined in any way transparently for negligence in this area.”
The following is a transcript of Collins’s interview with Crux staff members John Allen, Inés San Martín and Claire Giangravè, which aired Monday.
How did you react to what the pope had to say about you on the papal plane?
I suppose I was knocked over by it a little bit at first, because it’s not every day of the week that the pope actually speaks about you! I appreciate, very much, the positive words he said about me, it really meant a lot to me.
When I resigned, and made the criticisms I did about the resistance I felt was there and the lack of cooperation with the pontifical commission, there were some in the Vatican who would have thought I was just being negative or trying to damage the Church in some way. I’ve never, ever done that. Whenever I’ve spoken, it’s always been intended to be constructive criticism and hopefully to bring things forward. The fact that the pope himself spoke about me as he did, and obviously doesn’t see me as an enemy, or somebody trying to do damage, meant a great deal to me.
The pope said he’s spoken to you about your resignation, which was news to many of us. Did you intentionally keep that to yourself?
I think there was some misunderstanding there in what he said. I haven’t actually sat down and spoken to him. I wrote him a very detailed letter when I resigned, and I had a translation into Spanish. I think when he said I had explained to him, in detail and clearly, what my worries were, he may have been referring to that letter, which I wrote in March at the time of my resignation. I have met him and shaken hands with him, but I haven’t had a meeting.
The pope spoke on the plane about steps the Church has taken to try to respond to abuse cases. Do you think things are moving in the right direction?
I know he spoke about improvements in dealing with cases at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where there’s a great backlog. Cases there were taking a long time to go through, maybe two years to go through, and it meant that people who were accused and victims were left in limbo for a very long time. That has been improved greatly, particularly in recent times.
I was a little disappointed he didn’t speak about the area that really concerned me most, which is the problems about getting child protection policy guidelines disseminated globally, and having something consistent in the different countries. There was a problem between the pontifical commission and the CDF about developing those, working on them, and I was hoping that might move forward. He didn’t say anything about that, so I don’t know if there has been any movement.
It is important that each bishops’ conference will have a similar ‘gold standard’ practice as far as their child protection guidelines are concerned. Obviously, there will be cultural differences in different countries, but the basic policies should be very similar.
That was the hope of the pontifical commission. That’s why the commission drew up a template, which would be a best practice template, and then wanted to work with the CDF on developing that further, as they had been working on it in the past. There was a difficulty there, and I was hoping that difficulty might have been overcome by now.
Another thing the pope didn’t address is the question of the accountability of bishops for the abuse scandals. Would you agree that’s also something that still needs attention?
That’s another issue I really feel very strongly about. We had the recommendation from the commission, going to the pope, for a tribunal for episcopal negligence. That was approved and announced in June 2015, and went nowhere. We’ve been told since by Cardinal [Gerhard] Müller [Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], who spoke in an interview after my resignation, that the tribunal never went ahead because there were already the powers in the Congregation for Bishops and the CDF to take care of all these cases.
My worry is that we haven’t seen anything of this. We’re told the powers are there, but they don’t appear to be being used. I haven’t seen any bishop being removed or disciplined in any way transparently for negligence in this area. The tribunal that the pontifical commission wanted to see put in place, and that the pope approved, didn’t happen because the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decided not to move forward.
On September 5, 2016, the motu proprio “Like a Loving Mother” was supposed to come into effect. Pope Francis put it out in place of that original tribunal. It was supposed to cover religious superiors as well as the bishops. But again, we haven’t seen it in action, we don’t know if it’s being implemented. I would really like to know, is it being implemented, or is it just sitting on a shelf?
The commission had a three-year mandate, which is up in December. What do you think should be the next step forward?
I think if the resistance that was there, which caused me to resign, the resistance on the part of those in the Vatican who are tasked with implementing decisions, continues, then it should be made public. The recommendations, such as wishing to work on the guidelines, went from the commission to the pope and then to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They were approved by the Holy Father.
The reason I resigned was because on Dec. 16, there was a letter sent back from the congregation to the commission, basically saying we won’t cooperate on these matters. They also said they won’t acknowledge survivors’ letters, which was another point.
I’m no longer on the commission, so I’m no longer privy to what’s being said or done, but I would believe that if that sort of resistance continues, then the commission itself should speak. It shouldn’t be up to one member having to resign to make it public. The commission itself would have an obligation to make it known that they’re still being resisted in the work they’re trying to do. After all, the commission was appointed by the pope to advise on all these issues and to try to improve the way things are done in child protection. If there is resistance, even from a small core of people in the administration of the Church, that really has to be made known.
I don’t know what the situation is. The commission’s term ends in December, but I think what will happen then is that maybe new members will be brought on board. Some members will continue for another term. I imagine the commission will continue with its work. But at this point I think that if there is any resistance, it has to be out in the open.
When I came out and said what I did, there were some people in the Vatican who characterized me as somebody who just doesn’t understand how things work in the Vatican, and maybe I was confused. I think I’ve been validated somewhat by what the Holy Father said. He did say I’m a capable person, and that some of the things I said were right. I don’t think things can be left as they are. If there is resistance, it’s got to be overcome, because there’s no place for resistance to change when it comes to child protection.
You said you haven’t spoken to Pope Francis since your resignation. Now that you’ve heard what he said on the plane, if you had the chance, what would you say to him?
I’d very much like to meet with him, I’d very much like to have the chance to discuss these problems. I’d like to have a clear dialogue, to give him the view of somebody who is a survivor but who has also now worked closely with the Church. I’d like to help him in any way I could with anything I’ve seen, anything I believe needs to be changed.
As a survivor, I’d just like to meet the man. I’ve shaken his hand, but I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with him.
You’ve said in the past you believe Pope Francis’s heart is in the right place on this issue. Is that still your impression?
It is. I think he definitely has the right attitude, I think he definitely grasps the horror of abuse and the need to have it cleared out of the Church as much as possible, to prevent it as much as possible. It’s very difficult for him, because he has so many issues he has to deal with.
I think something else he said on the plane was very important, and that was he’s never pardoned anyone found guilty of abuse. He has, apparently, eased some of the disciplinary sanctions, but he has never actually pardoned anyone. I think that’s a very good point that should be made known.
I believe the pope is doing his best, I believe he’s trying very hard. He set up the commission with outside experts to come in and advise him. It’s not surprising that there might be resistance within the curia. He’s spoken himself about the evil of clericalism, and I think the resistance is a symptom of that. It’s almost as if the people on the commission are coming in from the outside. They’re not part of that clerical group, and therefore they’re seen as interfering rather than trying to help.
I think that’s a pity, because I know everyone on that commission has been working hard to help as much as possible those within the administration trying to deal with this matter, not in any way to interfere or take over from them. I think that’s where there’s misunderstanding, and that’s where some problems have arisen: ‘We’ve been doing it this way for so long, we don’t need anyone to come in to tell us how to do it differently.’ I think that’s where the mistake is.