ROME—The head of a powerful Vatican office cited by the last survivor of clerical abuse to serve as an active member of the pope’s anti-sexual abuse commission as part of her reason for resigning has fired back, saying it’s time to drop the “cliché” of Pope Francis wanting reform and his opposition in the Roman Curia seeking to block it.
“Sustaining the pope’s universal mission, trusted to him by Jesus, is part of our Catholic faith and the ethos of the curia,” said German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Asked to explain why Marie Collins had decided to resign, he said that the work his department and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is very different. The congregation, he said, carries through the canonical process against the clerics accused of the gravest crimes.
“Yet the congregation has cooperated in the constitution of the commission,” Muller said. “One of our collaborators is part of it. I can affirm that in these last years there’s been permanent contact.”
Marie Collins had spoken of “shameful lack of cooperation” within some sections of the Roman curia, the Vatican’s governing body, and eventually spoke specifically about the CDF being part of the problem.
Speaking with Corriere della Sera, Muller said, “I believe that we have to end with this cliché, the idea according to which on the one side there is the pope, who wants reform, and on the other, a resistance wanting to block it.”
Talking to America, Collins had also spoken about the CDF’s refusal to send a letter of acknowledgement to survivors who send letters to the Vatican, something which she claimed had been proposed by the commission and approved by the pope. Every Vatican office was supposed to do it, but a monsignor from Muller’s wrote back saying they wouldn’t.
On this, Muller said that it’s the responsibility of the local bishops, or superior generals when abuse was committed not by a diocesan priest but by a religious, to give pastoral support to survivors.
“The congregation has the task of running canonical trials,” Muller said. “Personal contact with the survivors is better done by local shepherds. And when a letter arrives, we always ask the bishop to provide pastoral care to the victims, clarifying to them that the congregation will do everything possible to do justice.”
It’s a misconception, he said, to believe that the office in Rome could take care of all the dioceses and religious orders in the world, because it would not respect the “legitimate autonomy of dioceses and the principle of subsidiarity.”
Asked about what Collins had said to Crux and other outlets regarding lack of cooperation from members of the curia, Muller said in the interview published on Saturday that beyond the letters, he knew of no such cases.
Another issue many observers saw as one of the reasons behind Collins’s resignation was the idea of a new tribunal, suggested by the commission and approved by the pope, to judge bishops accused of dropping the ball on abuse allegations. That tribunal was announced, then quietly dropped.
According to Muller, it was discussed between Vatican departments after the announcement was made, and they reached the conclusion that the Congregation for Bishops already has what’s needed to prosecute bishops for what they did or didn’t do regarding specific cases of clerical sexual abuse.
Closing the interview, Muller also said that a global change of mentality is needed, not only within the Church, when it comes to sexual abuse of minors, and that with the commission Pope Francis attempted to set an example.
“I believe this can’t be resolved only by threatening with punishment, either civil or canonical,” Muller said. “We need a total change of mentality: From selfishness on sexuality, to the full respect of the person.”