Vatican tribunal ‘must deal retrospectively’ with abuse

Tribunal will hold bishops to account for covering up child sex abuse allegations

The new Vatican tribunal created by Pope Francis to deal with bishops who fail to protect children from being sexually abused by priests should deal retrospectively with past allegations of sexual abuse, says survivor Marie Collins.

Ms Collins, who is the only Irish member of the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme that the main recommendations of the commission would focus on accountability for incidences of sexual abuse.

“If he (a bishop) doesn’t have the right attitude to abuse, or if he doesn’t deal with a case properly and it means a child is not kept safe, then he will have to answer to his own higher authority as well as to civil authority,” said Ms Collins.

“This is to make sure that as far as the church laws go, a bishop can longer... just behave as he wishes.”


The new tribunal within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be able to hold bishops to account for mishandling or covering up allegations of clerical child sex abuse. To date no Catholic bishop has been removed from office by the Vatican for his role in covering up clerical child sex abuse.

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said he would support any initiative that made clear the church was not a safe haven for people who abuse children, adding that justice would be treated retrospectively.

“When it comes to something like child safeguarding, just because something happened a long time ago doesn’t mean that you’re not accountable for it now,” said Mr Martin.

Ms Collins commended the Pope for his prompt turnaround in responding to the commission’s proposals, saying “in Vatican terms”, Pope Francis had replied very quickly.

“I hope this shows we really are serious about the work we’re doing,” said Ms Collins. “This is only the beginning, there’s a lot more work for the commission to do and hopefully it is going to change the way the church deals with this whole issue.

“We know this has happened worldwide with so many that have been in leadership and have not protected children, have not handled cases properly, have left children in danger, and nothing has been done about it.”

Asked whether she would like to see Cardinal Desmond Connell stand before the new Vatican tribunal, Ms Collins said she didn't want to speculate on any one particular individual.

“I won’t go into who should and who shouldn’t because when you mention one there are other survivors who feel about their bishop or their archbishop exactly the same way as I would have felt about Cardinal Connell,” she said.

“There are dozens around the world who have mishandled cases and all have got to be accountable.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times