Saturday 23 February 2019

Clerical abuse survivor warns of 'complacency' in Irish church

Clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins
Clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins

Sarah MacDonald

Clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins has warned that “complacency” is “gaining ground” in the Irish church on child safeguarding with some Catholics arguing that the church is being targeted and “the crisis is behind us”.

In her address to members of the catholic group, ‘We Are Church Ireland’ in Dublin on Monday evening Ms Collins said, “The Church has not acted proactively only reactively” on child protection.

She stressed that any improvement in safeguarding “is not universal” and that the Church globally still has a long way to go. “You can be sure there is abuse of minors in every country where the Church has a presence as it is in every society.” 

The survivor, who was abused by a Dublin priest while in hospital as a child, noted that in each country where survivors come forward for the first time and begin to speak out “the Church reaction is a mirror image of what we were hearing here in Ireland thirty years ago.”

“I spoke recently with someone from Poland where the crisis is just now breaking. There the bishops are saying it is ‘enemies of the church’ behind it, it is an ‘aggressive media with an anti-church agenda’. All very familiar and an absolutely disgraceful attitude in 2019.”

Speaking ahead of the first global gathering of bishops called by Pope Francis for 21-24 February in Rome to discuss the worldwide scandal of abuse in the Church, she hit out at the “sleeping mandarins in leadership in our Church” who “seem to feel if they turn a blind eye it will stay hidden and they will not have to deal with it”.

While they look away children are being hurt, she told the gathering of reform minded Catholics at the Mercy International Centre in Dublin.

In a scathing assessment of the Vatican’s curia, she said “Clericalism is embedded in its fabric. It is inefficient, full of cumbersome bureaucracy, jealousies between departments which leads to lack of cooperation, those in leadership are often chosen because of their titles or contacts rather than their skills or expertise.”

She called for the strongest possible penalties for the perpetrators of child abuse and for anyone in church leadership who would protect perpetrators.

She called on Pope Francis to make a clear statement at the February summit outlining what is the accountability process being used by the Church to hold bishops accountable if accused of negligence, protection of abusers or cover up.

“Who is investigating? Who are the judges? What are the penalties?” she questioned and urged the Pontiff to commit to publishing the names of those found guilty of abuse.

Other recommendations she made included a call for “a clear definition of what constitutes sexual abuse of a minor” and for the Vatican and the Church to commit to abiding by this definition in all cases. She warned that canon law’s vagueness on a definition of sexual abuse often leads to a failure to secure a guilty verdict in cases where most people would see clearly abuse has occurred.

She also recommended that the Church agree a clear definition of the term “zero tolerance” and commit to its implementation.

Ms Collins, who resigned from the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2017 over curial resistance to the PCPM’s recommendations, stressed that canon law on the abuse of vulnerable adults needed to be separated from the abuse of minors.

“The abuse of power leading to the sexual exploitation of young seminarians or any persons who are over 18 should not be confused with abuse of minors. The processes in dealing with the two issues should be completely separate,” she said.

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