Chilean abuse survivors to visit Vatican as guests of Pope Francis

Dubliner Marie Collins played major role in pope’s admission of error in disbelieving victims

Juan Carlos Cruz, who is the key whistleblower in Chile’s clerical sex abuse scandal, in Rome on Tuesday for his audience with Pope Francis. Photograph: Andrew Medichini/AP

Three Chilean abuse survivors, whose allegations of a cover-up against a local bishop were described as "calumny" by Pope Francis on a visit to Chile last January, will be his personal guests at the Vatican from Friday, for the weekend.

Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and José Andrés Murillo will also reside at Sancta Marta where the pope himself lives.

Dublin abuse survivor Marie Collins played a major role in bringing this about.

It follows the extraordinary public admission by Francis on April 11th that he had made “grave errors” of judgment in the Chile clerical sex abuse scandal which is shaping up to be the greatest to date in South American history.


All of Chile’s bishops have been summoned to the Vatican for a meeting next month.

Mr Cruz alleges that Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno had, as a priest, witnessed his abuse by Fr Fernando Karadima and did nothing about it. In 2011 Fr Karadima was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing boys and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance.

Despite the allegations Bishop Barros was made bishop by Pope Francis in March 2015. In Chile last January Francis pledged support for Bishop Barros, saying: “The day they bring me proof against Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.”

But such evidence was made available to the pope in 2015 by Marie Collins.

In April 2015 she presented a letter to Cardinal Seán O’Malley, chair of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, of which she then was a member. It was for Pope Francis and from Mr Cruz, who detailed in it his abuse by Fr Karadima as allegedly witnessed by Bishop Barros.

Published letter

Marie Collins was photographed making the presentation. Following the pope’s remarks last January she published the letter and the photograph of her handing it to Cardinal O’Malley for Pope Francis who, it seems, had not read it.

A Vatican investigation, set up following the remarks of Francis in Chile, interviewed 64 alleged abuse victims. Its report led to the pope's remarkable statement on April 11th as well as his invitation to the three survivors to visit him at the Vatican this weekend.

I've had churchmen lie to my face and who felt justified in misleading and being economical with the truth

Marie Collins had been a member of the Commission for the Protection of Minors from 2014. She resigned in March 2017 as its proposals on child protection ran into sand at the Vatican. Its term ended last December.

In 2014 she proposed that Mr Cruz, also an active child protection campaigner, be appointed to the commission. It did not happen. In September 2015 it emerged that two Chilean cardinals were involved in trying to block the appointment.

One of the cardinals, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, is a member of the Council of Cardinals set up by Pope Francis to reform the Roman Curia. He has already acknowledged that he did not believe Mr Cruz’s allegations. The second is Archbishop of Santiago Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello.

Long struggle

For Marie Collins it was just the latest episode in a long struggle with the clerical mindset in the Church. In 2014 she accepted an invitation to join the commission, with caution. “I’ve had churchmen lie to my face and who felt justified in misleading and being economical with the truth,” she said.

It began in 1985 when she told a local parish curate in Dublin about her abuse by chaplain Fr Paul McGennis in 1960 when she was a patient at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children.

In 1995 she reported her abuse to the Dublin archdiocese. She was told Fr McGennis was receiving treatment. He was not. He was serving in a Dublin parish.

Fr McGennis admitted the abuse to Church authorities. Marie Collins was not told this at the time nor was it confirmed to investigating gardaí. Nor was she told about the other allegations against Fr McGennis.

In June 1997 Fr McGennis pleaded guilty to abusing Marie Collins and was jailed.

Earlier this year a new Commission for the Protection of Minors was set up at the Vatican. It met for the first time on April 20th.

In a tweet, Marie Collins wished it well.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times