Pope’s decision on child sex-abuse commission members criticised

Marie Collins fears working groups set up to address care of survivors may be scrapped

Dublin abuse survivor Marie Collins has criticised a decision by Pope Francis not to reappoint "some of the most hard-working, independent, and active members" of the outgoing Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors to the new commission announced at the weekend.

The former commission ended its term of office in December. Ms Collins resigned from it last March after serving “three difficult years”, due to frustration with some officials in the Roman curia, particularly at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The only other abuse survivor appointed to the original commission with her , the UK's Peter Saunders, took leave of absence in 2016 and resigned last December for similar reasons to Ms Collins.

The new 16-member commission, half of them laypeople, includes eight new appointees from around the world. Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley remains as president, and Mgr Robert Oliver, also from Boston, returns as secretary.


Among members of the outgoing commission available for reappointment but overlooked were French psychotherapist Catherine Bonnet, the UK's Baroness Sheila Hollins, Bill Kilgallon, a New Zealand church official, and religious congregation adviser Krysten Winter-Green,a New Zealander living in the US.

Ms Collins pointed out that these were leaders of working groups set up to address the care and healing of survivors.

“They were halfway through their work, and I’m worried these groups may now be scrapped,” she said. “There is no group in the commission for survivors.”

‘International experts’

Announcing the new commission, the Vatican noted the eight men and eight women chosen were “from a multi-disciplinary field of international experts in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults from the crime of sexual abuse”.

Included are four nuns and four clergy, a cardinal, an archbishop, a bishop and a priest. The Vatican said several members of the new commission were victims of clerical sexual abuse, but did not made clear who these may be.

The commission, set up in 2014, was mandated to bring proposals to Pope Francis on the protecting of minors and vulnerable adults in the church. Almost from the beginning, it, and the pope in implementing its recommendations, faced resistance from Vatican officials.

As an example, Ms Collins cited the commission proposal, approved by Pope Francis, that a tribunal be set up at the Vatican to deal with bishops who act inappropriately in child sexual abuse cases. It was announced in June 2015, but was never set up as Vatican officials found there were legal difficulties in doing so.

Instead, in June 2016, Pope Francis signed a new law specifying that a bishop’s negligence in response to clerical sexual abuse could lead to his removal from office. How this was to be done was never outlined.

Looking back, Ms Collins has “no regrets” about her membership of the commission. It allowed her “a very good insight into the Church’s attitude to this issue [clerical child sex abuse]. I saw the Vatican up close, and its resistance, the lack of priority [on clerical child sex abuse], lack of transparency, and the absolutely misleading statements issued. I saw, close up, how things work in the Church,” she said.

Her experience on the commission, and Pope Francis's use of the word "calumny" in Chile last month to describe evidence of clerical abuse by survivors, had not "devastated or depressed" her.

Rather it “confirmed what I’ve always known,” she said. Senior church figures “don’t feel the same sense of responsibility” to abuse survivors, she said. Their concern was with “control and power” and that was “short-sighted”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times