Abuse victim will welcome report after 24-year battle

 

MARIE COLLINS is looking forward to the imminent publication of the Murphy report on the handling by church and State authorities in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese of clerical child sex abuse allegations. It will allow her to “step back into the shadows”.

The report is expected to be published by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern this week but there is a possibility that, for logistical reasons, publication might be next week.

For Ms Collins, the journey to publication has taken 24 years. In 1985 she first reported her own abuse to a church representative, but nothing happened.

Ten years later, in 1995, she went directly to the Dublin archdiocesan leadership and was aware “almost immediately that they were more concerned with protecting the institution than protecting children”.

She recalled yesterday: “I knew I had to speak out, as others had done. The fact that criminal child abusers were being protected by their superiors needed to be known if it was to be stopped.”

One of the most vocal survivors of clerical abuse in Ireland, she has “never enjoyed the public side” of the effort to have such abuse addressed and proper child protection measures introduced. “But there was no other way,” she said. It has been “a very, very rough road”.

It has also meant she is no longer a practising Catholic, even if she retains her faith in God.

It was “a very unequal struggle. The church had so much power. As a survivor who had spent over 30 years suffering all the effects of that abuse – low self-esteem, misplaced guilt and all the other psychological problems that come with abuse – it is difficult to express how hurt and despairing I felt to be seen as a lying troublemaker.”

Senior clerical members among archdiocesan authorities “saw me as an enemy and made many efforts to undermine my credibility”.

This was evident in 1999, when a Would You BelieveRTÉ documentary was made about her by reporter Mick Peelo.

In February 1998, she sent an e-mail to Pat Kenny about her abuse. The broadcaster read it during his radio programme, which had been discussing an investigation into allegations of child abuse by swimming coaches. She wanted to know why there was no similar investigation into child abuse by priests.

Later, Peelo approached her about making a documentary. Lawyers for the archdiocese tried to stop it, saying she was lying and threatened to sue if it was broadcast. It was, in 2000, and nothing happened. She commends Peelo and RTÉ for their courage.

As reports of her abuse appeared in the national papers, her local parish priest told a congregation at Mass on Sunday, in her presence, that they were not to believe anything they read in the papers. They should read Catholic papers instead, he said.

Her hope now is that “the truth will come out and people like me will be vindicated. I can have closure then and move on with my life. That is absolutely my feeling.”