Belfast Telegraph

Stop defending the indefensible, abuse survivor tells Catholic church

Earlier this week, Pope Francis wrote a 2,000 word letter to Catholics in which he condemned the crime of sexual abuse by priests.

A clerical abuse survivor and campaigner has called for those who refuse to accept that sexual abuse happened within the Catholic church to stop “defending the indefensible”.

Marie Collins said there are still people in the Catholic church, clergy and lay people who believe the abuse scandals are a “media conspiracy” and survivors are trying to “destroy the church”.

Speaking the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) congress at the Royal Society Dublin, Ms Collins – who last year resigned from the Holy See’s commission to protect minors in frustration at the Vatican’s failure to tackle vital issues around clerical abuse – also called for Catholic families to speak out about sex abuse.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis wrote a 2,000 word letter to Catholics in which he condemned the crime of sexual abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups.

Pope Francis demanded accountability in response to new revelations in the United States of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church.

In her speech, Ms Collins said: “Sadly, still in the church among clergy and lay people, there are those who prefer to believe that all this is a media conspiracy, just survivors trying to destroy the church and they deny and they defend.

“I’m hoping at this point where they won’t believe survivors, they will at least believe the Pope who has now has written to every single Catholic in the world.

“I hope that they will take their energies from defending the indefensible and accept the truth and instead of denial, put their energies into changes that are needed.

“Pope Francis in his letter to every Catholic acknowledged the enormous failures of the church to safeguard children and vulnerable adults.

“Survivors and victims of abuse don’t need a letter from the Pope to know this is a reality. We’ve been speaking about this for decades.”

Around 300 people gathered to listen to Ms Collins and three other panelists address the subject of safeguarding children and adults.

Baroness Professor Sheila Hollins, a former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors England, chaired the discussion after Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, pulled following abuse allegations at St John’s Seminary in Boston.

In her speech, Ms Collins called for people to “speak up and seek assurance” that there is no place in the Catholic Church for anyone “who would hurt a child or protect a predator”.

“We must keep children safe,” she added.

Three years ago, the Pontifical Commission recommended the establishment of a court to introduce strong sanctions against sexual abusers.

“It never happened,” she continued.

She also outlined a number of measures she wants the Catholic Church to put in place including introducing the “strongest, safest safeguarding polices” with the strength of Canon Law behind them.

She called for robust structures to be put in place to hold those responsible for protecting predators in dioceses and the Vatican.

Ms Collins added that there must be strong sanctions against anyone in the Vatican who would stand in the way of this.

“The church on one hand claims to be on the side of survivors and victims while at the same time they are fighting against the removal of statute limitations in America and other countries,” she added.

“If these were removed, it would mean more abusers could be prosecuted and victims receive justice.

“The actions of the church do not match the words, and are the total opposite.

“Real zero tolerance should be put in place so that any priest who abuses a child is removed from the church immediately, that’s what real zero tolerance means.

“Sadly Canon law has been used to protect the abuser more than to punish them.”

Baroness Professor Sheila Hollins later said she did not know the identity of those at the top of the Vatican who are resisting change and continue to protect child abusers.

She said: “People who have grown up in this particular clerical culture don’t realise – and they are trying hard – but they don’t realise how much their culture has formed and shaped them so they don’t see the world in the same everyone else does. But we don’t know who the people are and it’s not just the people with a clerical title, it will include some lay people as well.”

Ms Collins added: “We don’t know the names, we just know that the resistance exists, it exists in some people.

“I don’t believe there is any excuse for it anymore, culture or anything else and I believe at this point it must be known in the Vatican who are resisting this.

“The Pope must know who they are and instead of calls for Bishop O’Malley to be dismissed, it’s these people who need to be dismissed and dismissed immediately.”

Also speaking at the conference was Professor Gabriel Dy-Liacco from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Philippines, who warned: “There is a need to change the culture in the church.

“If it’s not changed this is going to continue.”

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