Included among the eight members invited to be part of the newly launched Commission for the Protection of Minors is Marie Collins, an abuse survivor and advocate from Ireland.
Announced last December, the Commission was officially launched on Saturday. Its role will be to advise the Holy See on matters pertaining to youth protection.
As a young teenager, Collins was sexually abused by a hospital chaplain. When she reported the priest’s conduct to Church authorities decades later, they dismissed her claims, even suggesting she was at fault for the abuse.
Collins has since become active in promoting the protection of minors. She is the founder of the Marie Collins Foundation, an initiative which provides support to children who have been sexually abused or exploited via online resources. In 2012, she was invited to speak at a Symposium on the sexual abuse of minors, held at the Pontifical Gregorian University, during which she shared her testimony with bishops from around the world.
In an interview with ZENIT, she spoke about her hopes for this new Vatican Commission.
ZENIT: What are some of the concrete goals you hope to see achieved through the Commission for the Protection of Minors?
Collins: I would hope to see this Commission bring in changes in the handling of child abuse, which would see true accountability introduced to ensure that all child protection policies are backed up by severe consequences for anyone, no matter their seniority within the Church, who would ignore them. There must also be a change in attitude towards survivors. The often abusive legal process at the moment leaves no room for care of those who are hurt and in fact causes further damage. There is no point in aspirational statements coming from the Commission; real structural change needs to be put in place.
ZENIT: Could you speak about your role within the Commission?
Collins: I am an equal member of the eight person Committee and I see my role as speaking as a survivor of the issues that are of vital importance to those who are at the very centre of this issue, the abused.
ZENIT: Do you anticipate other abuse survivors being added as members of the Commission? Do you think this would be important?
Collins: The Commission will be expanding in time to include many more areas of expertise and wider spread of nationalities. I would of course wish for more survivor representatives to be included in this expansion.
ZENIT: How have other abuse survivors responded to the launching of this Commission, and to your appointment as a member?
Collins: I have received many supportive messages from survivors and survivor groups. There have of course been negative responses as well. Survivors who see this Commission as a sham and my inclusion as part of a public relations stunt but I can well understand their distrust and anger. It is up to the Commission to prove by its actions that it is a sincere move forwards by the Church.
ZENIT: What are your thoughts on the way Pope Francis has handled the issue of abuse of minors by priests?
Collins: I was disappointed by Pope Francis' comments on 5th March this year. He appeared to suggest the Catholic Church was being unfairly criticised in comparison with other institutions. He did not seem to recognise the criticism and anger directed at the Church is not because it had abusers in its ranks but that their superiors protected them and in many cases this facilitated further abuse. However Pope Francis’ setting up of this Commission is a hopeful sign of him giving the issue serious attention.
ZENIT: You have said that you have remained Catholic, although at times with some difficulty. How have you been able to remain a Catholic, and work with the Church on this issue, in light of your past experiences?
Collins: I have retained my Catholic faith but not always been a fully practicing Catholic as that has its own difficulties. I have tried in my mind to separate the institutional Church with its hierarchical structures from the message of the faith. My belief in God has never waivered.