Marie Collins, who was a founding member of Pope Francis’s Commission for the Protection of Minors but resigned in early 2017, says his handling of a letter from a Chilean abuse survivor has “definitely undermined credibility, trust, and hope” in the pontiff.
“He has said all the right things and he has expressed all the right views on abuse, and the harm and the hurt, but in this case at least it would seem his actions have not matched the words, and that is sad,” she said.
In 2015, the Irish abuse survivor personally handed the letter from Juan Carlos Cruz to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Boston archbishop who heads the commission, in an attempt to stop Francis from transferring Bishop Juan Barros to the Diocese of Osorno.
In the eight-page letter, Cruz detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling he says he suffered at the hands of Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious priest-abuser.
Cruz said this abuse was witnessed by Barros and other members of the clique surrounding Karadima.
“Cardinal O’Malley said he would hand it to the pope, and he told us later he had done so and that he had discussed the concerns with the pope himself,” Collins told Radio Boston WBUR.
Francis told reporters on a flight back from South America Jan. 21, 2018, that no victims had come forward to him about the case.
The Associated Press published part of the contents of the letter, and a photo of Collins handing it over to O’Malley, in an exclusive report on Monday.
Collins told the radio station that she and three other members of the commission, acting as individuals since the commission did not handle individual cases, had discussed the issue with O’Malley.
It was the only time she brought a case up with the cardinal, she said, but she did so “for the protection of children.”
“It was to do with somebody being appointed a bishop whose judgement was suspect, that someone was being appointed who might have seen abuse and not recognized it as abuse, and so being responsible for the protection of children in his diocese may not recognize abuse as abuse, and therefore the children would not be protected as they should be, and that’s the main reason we went to speak,” she said.
Collins said Cruz was pleased to know that his letter would get through to the pope, and that he was optimistic, since “there would be some chance that survivors would be heard.”
“Unfortunately, as I heard from him later, there had been no response from the pope, and he was very disappointed.”
During the pope’s visit to Chile he said “there was not one shred of proof” in the case against Barros and said the accusations against him were “calumny.”
Collins said abuse victims would see the pope’s quote and think no one will believe them.
“And that is dreadful because we have been trying so much to empower victims to come forward and telling them they will be believed, and the Church has been putting out this message that you will be believed. And then the highest churchman that we have is saying he doesn’t believe without evidence and without proof, and it’s hugely damaging, and it’s a huge step backward,” she said.
And then came the interview on the plane back to Rome, when in response to a question about the Barros case, Francis said, “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”
Collins said she was shocked by his words.
“I didn’t understand. I didn’t know. I was quite mystified why the Holy Father would say that,” she said.
“I was quite shocked because obviously I was aware that this letter had been given him, and I felt there was no way he couldn’t know about these survivors,” she explained.
Collins pointed out that Francis had given an instruction to all Vatican departments that they should respond to survivors, and the failure of Vatican officials to follow this directive is one of the reasons she resigned from the Vatican’s commission to protect minors.
“It is extraordinary that then in this case, where he received something himself from a survivor, he did not respond. That hadn’t passed me by. It is very ironic, but it is sad,” she told the radio station.
In the aftermath of the backlash to the pope’s statements – O’Malley said they caused “great hurt” to survivors – the Vatican announced Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta was being sent to investigate the case. Scicluna was the top prosecutor for sexual abuse crimes in the Church under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.
Collins welcomed the move, but said it was “very belated.”
“I think this has been an issue for three years, not just with survivors but with priests and people in that diocese, and they haven’t been heard and they haven’t been listened to,” she said.
Collins concluded the interview by saying the episode has “definitely undermined credibility, trust, and hope” in Francis.
“All I can say is that people who had a lot of hope in this particular pope, and I am talking about just ordinary Catholics that I know in my own parish, would find it very difficult now…and cannot understand and cannot believe that this particular pope has said the things he has said in the last few weeks,” she said.