Church faces two dangers on safeguarding children
Opinion: Complacency and constant condemnation are key problems
Pope Francis: “The cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very profound wounds. Benedict XVI was very courageous and opened the way”. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters
The appointment of Marie Collins to the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is highly significant. It is a tribute to Marie Collins herself, who has been an articulate and dedicated campaigner on issues of child sexual abuse.
She made an impressive presentation at a major international summit on child abuse in 2012 at Rome’s Jesuit-run Gregorian University, which was co-sponsored by several Vatican departments.
Some 100 representatives of bishops’ conferences and 30 religious superiors attended the conference, and some were visibly shaken and moved by hearing what a victim had to say.
Other members of the new commission include Rev Hans Zollner, the vice-rector of the Gregorian University, a psychologist who organised the 2012 seminar, and Baroness Sheila Hollins, a British psychiatrist and former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Half the current commission’s members are women, and they are all heavy-hitters, including a former prime minister of Poland, Hannah Suchocka, who was appointed as prime minister under Lech Walesa, because she was highly regarded by politicians from many different parts of the political spectrum.
While this appointment is firstly and most importantly a tribute to Marie Collins, it might also be taken as an acknowledgment of the role played by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in combating child abuse, and of the thousands of trained volunteers actively involved in child safeguarding in the church.
Collins has already criticised Pope Francis for his comments in the Corriere Della Serra interview of March 5th. He had said he wished “to say two things. The cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very profound wounds. Benedict XVI was very courageous and opened the way.
“And, following that way, the church advanced a lot, perhaps more than anyone.
“The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also show clearly that the great majority of the abuses come from the family environment and from people who are close.
The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that moved with transparency and responsibility. No one else did as much. And yet, the church is the only one being attacked.”
There is some truth, however, in what he says. Among other achievements, Benedict put a stop to the rampages of Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who had led a sick and twisted life.
Under Benedict, tremendous strides were made regarding child protection, but it is also true that countries such as the US and Ireland were starting from a place of denial and paralysis. Other countries are struggling to catch up, and some have barely started.