Abuse Survivor Resigns From Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors

Marie Collins cited frustrations with ‘a lack of cooperation’ by the Curia as a leading factor.

Abuse survivor Marie Collins speaks to the press.
Abuse survivor Marie Collins speaks to the press. (photo: 2012 photo, David Kerr/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — On Wednesday the decision of clerical-abuse survivor Marie Collins to resign from her post on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was announced, citing frustrations with “a lack of cooperation” by the Curia as a leading factor.

In a March 1 statement coinciding with the announcement of Collins’ resignation, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who heads the commission, voiced “our most sincere thanks for the extraordinary contributions she has made as a founding member of the commission.”

“We will certainly listen carefully to all that Marie wishes to share with us about her concerns, and we will greatly miss her important contributions as a member of the commission,” he said.

A laywoman from Ireland, Collins had been tapped to join the commission when it was established in March 2014, though plans to found it had been announced shortly before, in December 2013.

Of the original nine founding members of the commission, Collins was one of two clerical-sex abuse survivors, alongside Peter Saunders from the United Kingdom.

However, Sanders was asked to take “a leave of absence” by the other members in February 2016, making Collins the only active abuse survivor serving on the commission until her resignation.

In a March 1 communiqué announcing her decision, the commission praised Collins as someone who has “consistently and tirelessly championed for the voices of the victims/survivors to be heard and for the healing of the victims/survivors to be a priority for the Church.”

The statement said that in her resignation letter to Pope Francis, she cited her “frustration at a lack of cooperation with the commission by other offices in the Roman Curia” as a reason for stepping down.

However, she has agreed to continue working with the commission “in an educational role,” given her “exceptional teaching skills” and the impact of her testimony as an abuse survivor.

Pope Francis, the communiqué read, accepted her resignation “with deep appreciation for her work” on behalf of other survivors of what he has often called the “scourge” of clerical sex abuse.  

In his personal statement, Cardinal O’Malley said that when the commission gathers for its plenary meeting next month, they will discuss the concerns that Collins brought up.

He voiced his gratitude for her willingness to continue working with the commission, specifically “in the education of Church leaders,” including upcoming courses for new bishops and departments of the Holy See.

In comments to CNA, Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, who heads the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and is a fellow of member of the commission, said he “can understand, and I certainly respect” Collins’ frustration.

“We can only be grateful that she has been with the commission for almost three years now. I think the commission will certainly cherish all that she has done for us and with us,” he said, but noted that “what she describes as resistance within the Curia” was perhaps “too testing” for her.

The message that everyone needs to be on the same page regarding abuse prevention and best practices is something that “has not happed instantaneously, and, honestly, I do not expect it to happen, especially if you look around at the global reality represented in the Catholic Church.”

“[So] I can understand that she is frustrated about that,” he said, and pointed to different perspectives various cultures take on the issue throughout the world.

“Canonically [we are] on the same page, but we are not on the same page in regards to attitudes,” in terms of “with how much energy, with how much determination we deal with cases of abuse that have happened, and with prevention,” he said.

“If you look into the Church worldwide, there are differences that are culturally bound and, in the wider sense, also politically bound. So this is what is difficult to bear for a survivor.”

Father Zollner acknowledged that part of this difference in approach is also found within the Curia, as mentioned by Collins in her letter of resignation.

“There are, as you can expect in any organization and in any institution, pushbacks; there are setbacks,” he said, but clarified that “this is not the Curia” as a whole.

“We have already received new invitations, and she herself says in her statement that she will continue to work with us, so if she thought it was the whole Curia, then she would not work in this effort to educate those in the Curia,” the priest explained.

He said part of the “pushback” Collins referred to was likely coming from specific offices or “the persons in the offices.” He stressed that he has “no idea” as to the specific cases she is referring to, but it could be along these lines.

Regardless of Collins’ resignation, Father Zollner said that “we need to continue working steadily, as we have done.”

“The voice of survivors at the moment is not represented by persons, but certainly by all of the members’ experiences,” he said, noting that all of the members, including Cardinal O’Malley, have met with survivors on several occasions, “so it’s not that the voice of survivors is not present anymore.”

When asked if the commission was planning to look for more survivor members to join, Father Zollner said he doubts there will be any changes to the commission’s current composition before the end of the term at the close of 2017, but the topic will likely come up during their plenary meeting next month.

Even before Collins decided to resign, the commission had planned to discuss “the future form and composition of this commission” during the plenary, he said, adding that they will likely have a proposal by March 24, when the plenary begins.

He referred to the testimonies given Thursday by commission members Kathleen McCormack and Sheila Hollins before Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, saying the pontifical commission is underfunded, having the resources of a diocese rather than an organization that operates throughout the globe.

While funding has “always” been a topic of discussion, Father Zollner said this will likely also be on the table for discussion during the upcoming plenary.

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