Pace of Vatican child protection body frustrates Marie Collins

Irish commission member has ‘very different’ view to Pope Francis on smacking children

Sex abuse survivor Marie Collins has admitted to feeling frustrated by the slow pace set by the Holy See's Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, of which she is a member.

Ms Collins was speaking in Rome on Saturday on the sidelines of a Holy See press conference given by commission president Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

The commission, which was established in late 2013, has been having its first ever plenary meeting, attended by 17 members including French pyschologist Catherine Bonnet; former Polish prime minister and ambassador to the Holy See Hanna Suchocka; British psychiatrist Baroness Sheila Hollins; and two abuse survivors - Ms Collins and Englishman Peter Saunders.

Ms Collins said a key issue for her was the accountability of bishops.

“I have spent the last year feeling quite frustrated about the slowness,” she said. “I always knew that the church worked slowly but when you are on the inside it seems even slower. As a survivor, I am thinking of children out there today who are being abused...and accordingly, I would like to see things being moved along as fast as possible.”

Making progress

Ms Collins said she believed the commission was making progress and would be hearing the views of other survivors but she wanted to see action taken.

“I want to get to the point where we are not talking about it anymore but where it is actually happening...If you try to do things too quickly, you make mistakes. On the other hand, there is a certain speed where you can achieve things and a certain speed where it just takes too long and you end up having to start again. I am just hopeful that from now on, things will move a little more quickly.”

Asked if she had a "cut-off" point in relation to waiting for real change to emerge from the commission, Ms Collins echoed the words of her colleague on the commission, Mr Saunders, who earlier said that if within two years he became convinced that the commission was not achieving anything significant, he would resign.

“If we don’t have something solid in place in relation to bishop accountability within the next two years, I don’t know if I would want to remain on the commission. Peter said that you probably wouldn’t find him here and I don’t think you would find me still here either and that is a survivors point of view,” she said.

Ms Collins said that if the current proposals “go forward”, then there “will be an answer” to the problem of bishop accountability.

Smacking comment

Ms Collins also made reference to Pope Francis suggesting that it was OK to smack your children to discipline them.

She said she had “a very different opinion” from the Pope on the issue.

“The good thing about the Holy Father is that he speaks without thinking and maybe sometimes he might put his foot in it but he is an honest man and I respect him for that even if on this particular matter, I have a very different opinion from him...”

Mr Saunders said, given the Pope was not and never had been a parent, then perhaps he needed advice on the upbringing of children. He was sure that if the Pope had not chosen the path of the church, that he would have become a good parent and one who would not have used physical violence.

During the press conference, Cardinal O’Malley expressed his gratitude to the Pope who in midweek published a letter to Bishops’ Conferences and to the heads of religious orders worldwide, encouraging them to give their full co-operation to the work of the commission.

He pointed out that the Commission will now appoint a “contact person” to establish a “line of communication” with each religious order and with each Bishops Conference.

Cardinal O’Malley also reported that 96 per cent of Bishops’ Conferences had responded to a 2011 letter from the Congregation For The Doctrine of the Faith calling on them to draw up their own child protection guidelines. He said that those churches which had not done so were in missionary situations where they were deprived of funds.