Clerical sexual abuse survivor disappointed in church


This video from Ireland says about itself:

Marie Collins calls for 7 actions at Vatican Abuse Summit

Ahead of the Abuse Summit in Rome in February 2019 with Pope Francis and the Heads of Bishops’ Conferences, Marie Collins speaking at the We Are Church Ireland meeting (14 January 2019) called on Pope Francis to seek agreement for a policy of zero tolerance and full transparency on clerical sex abuse and universal safeguarding of children throughout the Catholic Church.

1) Agree a clear definition of what constitutes sexual abuse of a minor

2) Agree on a clear definition of the term “zero tolerance”

3) Canon Law should be updated to reflect this

4) Canon Law on the abuse of vulnerable adults needs to be separated from the abuse of minors

5) Universal safeguarding measures and a transparent accountability policy for dealing justly with reports of abuse should be agreed

6) The Pope should make a clear statement at this meeting outlining what is the accountability process being used to hold bishops accountable

7) The Pope needs at this meeting to name those bishops who have a guilty finding against them, what was the offence and what was the penalty

Translated from Dutch [historical Roman Catholic] daily De Volkskrant, 15 February 2019:

Marie Collins vs. The Vatican

Abuse victim Marie Collins left the Pope’s committee frustrated: ‘I am very disappointed’

Marie Collins was abused by a priest in her youth. The pope asked her for a committee to make proposals to prevent abuse. She has resigned from it, disillusioned with what the Catholic Church is willing to do.

By Jarl van der Ploeg

If there is one person who knows why the four-day conference about abuse in the Vatican of next Thursday is doomed to fail, then it is Marie Collins. After all, it was Marie Collins who was asked by Pope Francis five years ago to join the oh-so-important Committee for the Protection of Minors, and it was Marie Collins who three years later resigned from that same committee out of pure frustration.

‘I am very disappointed in this pope’, says Collins (70). “While he started pretty well.”

Indeed, for a long time, Jorge Bergoglio, who has gone through life as Pope Francis since 2013, was known as an unprecedentedly progressive church leader who went to battle against the money wastage of some cardinals, stood up for homeless people and boat migrants and who during his first press conference on homosexuals said: ‘Who am I to judge about that?’

It brought the Argentinean jubilant commentaries, especially because he seemed to be – and this was really a giant breakthrough – tackling the global abuse scandal; the biggest crisis of the Catholic Church since the Reformation. While Pope John Paul II called all accusations “violent attacks on the respectability” of the church and Pope Benedict XVI mainly dealt with it with silence and idleness, Francis promised a “zero tolerance policy” when he was appointed in 2013.

It had to be finally finished with all sins and crimes, all negligence and complicity, he repeated time after time. The age-old principle within the church – how can we limit reputation damage as much as possible? – seemed to be finally replaced by him by: how can we alleviate the suffering of the victims?

One of his most important achievements was an expert committee to help prevent future abuse: the Commission for the Protection of Minors. Completely contrary to the prevailing mores within the Vatican, he mainly asked lay people to sit on that committee. No priests, bishops or cardinals, but ordinary citizens without clerical collars. Eg, a child psychiatrist from France, an international lawyer from Poland, a criminologist, a theologian, a church lawyer. And Marie Collins.

Why Marie Collins? Because Collins devoted her life to combating child abuse. The germ was laid when she was 12 or 13 years old and she was admitted to a Catholic children’s hospital in Dublin for three weeks because of an infection on her arm. She was abused there several times by the hospital’s chaplain, Paul McGennis.

“You know how these men work,” says Collins in her small, gray house in an equally gray suburb of Dublin. Because of everything that happened since those three weeks, she never succeeded in building a career and earning a lot of money. In her room there are two leather chairs and a couch, and that’s about it.

Extra attention

“The chaplain took me in, gave me extra attention-I was his special girlfriend,” he said-and in the evening he came to read to me. At those moments he abused me and also made photographs of it. I remember trying to stop him, but he said, “I am a priest, so I can not do anything wrong, can I?” You must understand that I was a child of the nineteen fifties; I had been taught that a priest was almost above God, he was so important. You could never ever contradict a priest. And now suddenly there was a priest who said to me, “If you do not like this, then there is something wrong with you. Then you are not normal. “He said that to me.”

The three weeks at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children ended Collins’ youth. “Before that, I was a confident, popular child. After that, I knew for sure that I was actually a bad person. I tried to do everything I could to keep that character hidden. I did not play outside anymore, kept all my friends at a distance and alienated myself from my family. I was afraid that if someone came too close, something bad would happen and that would be my fault. ”

From her 17th year on she got panic attacks. Around the age of 20 she got her first depression and from the age of 27 she developed a violent form of agoraphobia. “I have been at home for years – in this house where we are now. Together with my husband Ray I had a son aged 6 and because I did not dare, Ray was both his father and his mother. During the day Ray worked, in the evening he bought groceries, in the morning he brought our little fellow to school and I did not do anything that time. When Ray came home in the evening, I would still be in the same chair as I was in that morning and the dirty dishes in the kitchen would be untouched.”

Collins at that time had no idea that it was the fault of chaplain McGennis; she had tucked away the entire children’s hospital abuse and never thought about it. It was not until she came to a psychotherapist again after a series of new panic attacks that she spoke about the chaplain for the first time in her life, twenty-five years after the abuse. Encouraged by the psychotherapist, who said that McGennis might still be active, she went to her church to report it. The answer from her local priest: “You probably seduced the poor man. But do not worry, your sins are forgiven.”

“That answer”, says Collins, “felt like someone threw a stone through a window, but then inside my body. Everything fell apart into small pieces. Those words broke me completely. They threw me back in time years. I did not want to go back to the psychotherapist under any circumstances and I did not talk to anyone about McGennis for ten years. Not a word.”

The psychological complaints also increased again for Collins, who had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals ten times since her abuse. It was not until McGennis, forty years after abusing Collins – forty years in which he also made a career within the Church and in the meantime continued to rape and photograph young children – was arrested and imprisoned, only then did the depressions and the panic attacks stop.

Marie Collins foundation

Collins decided to dedicate the rest of her life to combating child abuse within the church. She founded the Marie Collins Foundation for children who, like her, were victims of child pornography. She contributed to new child protection protocols within the Irish Church – one of the most stringent protocols in the Catholic world – and the so-called Murphy Report, an in-depth investigation into sexual abuse within the Irish Roman Catholic Church, praised her ‘courageous, and often lonely campaign’ against the Archdiocese of Dublin. When Pope Francis took office in 2013, he asked Collins to come to Rome to help him. She said yes because she, like everyone else, hoped that a fresh wind would finally blow through the Vatican.

“But during our first meeting in Rome I noticed that something was wrong,” says Collins. ‘We were in a back room in Vatican City where not even a glass of water was present. There was not even a piece of paper on the table.”

The Commission for the Protection of Minors in Rome had been promised that the Vatican would not save any effort to do their job, “but every time we asked for money to get something realized, the answer was: no, too expensive, no, too expensive, no, too expensive‘.

‘Eg, we could only meet three times a year because the tickets to Rome were too expensive. In Rome we often slept in places that were far from the Vatican. But we were not allowed to use the official cars – which were intended for cardinals – and we were not allowed to declare money spent on taxis. We also had to pay for our own coffee, our own lunch, our own dinner. And when we asked for a small amount of pocket money, only for members who barely had money – we did our work for free and I, eg, did not have any income at that time, – the answer was: no, too expensive.” How much money exactly does the church manage? It is unclear. According to estimates, the Vatican alone – that is, excluding dioceses elsewhere in the world – has at least 10 billion euros to spend.

No respect from the curia

It was a pure lack of respect, says Collins. Not so much from the pope – who did not interfere with the committee at that level – but from the curia. That is the pope’s court of clergymen who have lived in Rome for a lifetime and therefore have a certain view of the world, says Collins. “Those men live in a bubble. They do not look outside, they just look inside. They are career hunters who want to get up as quickly as possible and therefore only work for themselves. They do not think about the children. They do not even think of the image of their own institute.”

And suddenly there was Mrs. Marie Collins who told these men how to behave in future. “I unfortunately know what these men think, because I’ve been through it for years. They sincerely believe that you only understand something of life when you are part of the church. That is why they will never accept anything from an outsider, even if it is the greatest expert on earth. They only believe in their own way of doing things and refuse to see that it has caused an immense mess. You do not want to know how many times I have explained to these people that they’re destroying their own church, but they just did not take it from me. You and I live in the real world, so we see how absurd it is, but those men literally live in a different world.”

That is why the committee not only encountered practical bullying, such as the lack of writing paper in their meeting room, but also substantive obstacles were raised. “It was so terribly frustrating,” says Collins. “Everything we did turned out to be totally useless. They put the best experts in the world around a table and then ignore all their advice.’

For example, the committee argued for the establishment of a tribunal that could punish bishops who had failed to take action against the abuse of others – an important first step in ending the cover-up culture. The Pope was full of praise for the proposal, he accepted it, then it landed in a drawer and nothing ever happened to it.

Another example: abuse victims often send letters to the pope, for example to ask what happened to a pedophile priest, or to tell their side of the story, often on the advice of their psychiatrist. It was the policy of the curia not to answer those letters. Collins proposed to adjust that policy and in future send a standard answer – she knew how important such a small gesture can be for victims. “The pope again thought it was a good idea and accepted it,” says Collins, “but a little later the curia told us that they would not do it anyway. They said that it would be disrespect to local bishops to correspond behind their backs with lay persons.”

It was ultimately a reason for Collins to resign from the committee. She found her work useless and the opposition by the curia unacceptable. That whole committee was a sham in her eyes. This was apparent, for example, when another member, the abuse victim Peter Saunders, was suspended after he had criticized publicly and when other experts were gradually replaced by priests and nuns.

Not a bad man

Francis himself is not a bad man,” says Collins. ‘He is very modest, has no fancy airs and does not think himself better than others. He is not condescending, never gives you pats on your shoulder and does not say consoling words because he thinks you want to hear them. He especially listens. Again, he is not a bad man. But if you are at the head of the church – a group of people so disgusted with change – that attitude is too weak.’

Francis is indeed not a hierarchical pope. Not at all. He refuses to stand at the head of an omnipotent institution that determines from Rome how the church should behave in, eg, Madagascar. Francis wants local churches to flourish from the bottom up and will therefore not force them to apply a particular measure. There is something to be said for that, says Collins, but it also has adverse consequences. His power in Vatican City is thus very limited, she says. And above all, he is not the right pope to stop the abuse crisis. Francis will never tell a Polish or Italian bishop how to prosecute their priests.

P.S. According to my statistics, there have been several clicks on this blog post from Vatican City. One should hope that will contribute to meaningful pro-abuse survivor reforms.

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