Campaigner ‘positive’ about Vatican child protection policy

Marie Collins speaks in Rome after first meetings of new body

Marie Collins spoke in Rome after the first meetings of the church’s new child protection body. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Marie Collins spoke in Rome after the first meetings of the church’s new child protection body. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Sat, May 3, 2014, 16:53

Clerical sex abuse campaigner Marie Collins today said that she had a “positive” feeling about the Holy See’s new child protection body, the Pontifical Commission for Minors.

Speaking at a Vatican press conference at the end of three days of meetings in Rome, Ms Collins, who is one of eight people currently serving on the commission, said: “I come away with a very positive feeling from the meetings.

“We are coming from very different perspectives but we all have one aim in mind, the protection of children and part of that is accountability for those who don’t protect children.

“I am happy at the moment that the meeting is addressing the issues I hoped it would address. Obviously we are just starting and you can only achieve a certain amount in two days but I think that what we have achieved in these two days has given us a very good idea of the direction we want to go in, what our initial aims will be.”

The Council for Minors, which contains four women, five lay people and three anglophones, was originally announced last December but it was holding its first meetings this week.

At today’s news conference, Ms Collins was flanked by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley who is the de facto commission head.

Asked about the fact that the Italian Bishops Conference recently ruled that its Bishops had no “legal” obligation to mandatorily report abuser priests, Cardinal O’Malley said:

“Accountability clearly cannot be ‘legal”, obviously it has to be ‘moral’...I would say these are exactly the sort of issues we would hope to deal with.

“We will not be dealing with individual cases. Rather our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols in place.

“We be will dealing with the whole issue of accountability for everyone in the church regardless of their status, both with regard to those who perpetrate (sex crimes) and those who cover up.

“It has been reported to me that some people do not see this as a problem for the Universal Church, so a lot of our recommendations are going to be about education.

“How we implement policies, how we monitor ourselves that is all part of child protection.”

Asked about recent remarks by Pope Francis when the he had said the Catholic Church had moved with “transparency and responsibility” in relation to its sex abuse crisis, Ms Collins said she had found “difficulty” with what the pope had said.

“But what I would say now is that we are looking forward, not back and there has been progress.

“The problem is the universality of the progress and what the commission is here to do is ensure that what happens in the future is going to be worldwide and not patchy in places.”

Ms Collins said there had been “many improvements”.

“For example in my own country we have good safeguarding policies in place...but there is still the need for a lot education about child protection in many areas of the Church.”

“In that regard what shocked me most about the (Jesuit-run) sex abuse symposium here in Rome two years ago was not the denial, rather it was the sincerity of some Bishops who felt the problem did not exist in their country and couldn’t exist there because of their culture.

“They weren’t denying it, rather they truly believed that it wouldn’t happen in their country, that it only happened in certain places and that is the sort of thing that (sex abuse) education has to deal with.”

Ms Collins also confirmed that she and the other members of the commission had met twice with Pope Francis yesterday.

“I was very pleased to meet with him. However, I would also like to say that I am aware that there are many, many survivors around the world who have great hopes and expectations of this commission and I would say that you cannot make concrete promises.

“Yet, as a survivor myself, I am hopeful that we are going to achieve something. But it is very, very early days.”

Asked about the fact that the Holy See is again due to find itself in the dock when it is scheduled to appear before the Geneva-based UN Committee Against Torture early next week, Marie Collins found herself in agreement with the Holy See when saying that “state sponsored torture” was “ an entirely different thing” from sex abuse crimes.

Yesterday, senior Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi had argued that the attempt to involve the issue of the sexual abuse of minors in the discussion on torture was “instrumental and forced”.