Survivor urges papal apology for protection of abusers

Mon, Feb 6, 2012, 00:00

IT WOULD be “wonderful” if Pope Benedict publicly sought forgiveness for church leaders who put loyalty to their institution ahead of children’s safety, clerical sex abuse survivor Marie Collins told an audience in Rome.

Addressing a press conference to promote “Towards Healing and Renewal”, a four-day symposium being held this week at the Pontifical Gregorian University in the city, Ms Collins conceded it had not been easy to accept an invitation to attend the church-run event.

Pointing an accusatory finger at Irish primate Cardinal Seán Brady, she said: “We know that among the many reasons for the anger of survivors is that despite apologies for the actions of the abusers, there have been few apologies for the protection given to them by their superiors.

“There seems to be a lack of a penalty for any of these men in leadership who deliberately or negligently covered up for these abusers, letting them continue to abuse new victims unhindered . . . We have an example of this in our own cardinal primate.”

Ms Collins did not go into further detail but the remark was an apparent reference to the 1975 canonical inquiry in which Cardinal Brady, then a priest, took part, and during which two child victims of paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth were allegedly sworn to secrecy.

Ironically, Cardinal Brady will be attending this week’s symposium as the representative of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

More than 100 bishops and 30 religious superiors from across the Catholic world will attend this week’s unprecedented event which officially opens tonight with an address by the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, US Cardinal William Levada, on “Sexual Abuse of Minors – a Multifaceted Response to the Challenge”.

One of the curious aspects of this week’s symposium is that it seems to sit in a “no-man’s land”, halfway between the Holy See and Roman clerical academia.

After all, strictly speaking, the symposium is not a Holy See initiative. However, it is significant that many senior Vatican figures, such as Cardinal Levada and Msgr Charles Scicluna of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are in attendance.

Likewise, senior Vatican “departments” have all been involved in preparing the symposium.

In addition, Friday’s opening press conference was addressed by the Holy See’s senior spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, who told reporters he hoped the event would represent a “broadening of horizons” for participants as well as a “step forward on the journey to reconciliation and renewal”.

Emblematic of the intended spirit of the symposium will be a penitential vigil in St Ignatius Church tomorrow night, attended by victims and churchmen and presided over by Canadian archbishop Marc Ouillet, prefect for the Congregation of Bishops.

Fr Hans Zollner, head of the organising committee, stressed the importance of the contribution of Ms Collins, saying on Vatican Radio yesterday: “One of the aims of this symposium is to let the victims be heard. It is very difficult to find people who are able and willing to speak in public of their pain and suffering. We have found this Irishwoman [Marie Collins] who is willing to talk to the symposium participants.

“This represents something very important. It is very important for those attending the symposium that they hear the voice of pain and suffering. This is a very important sign.”