Listen to the Woman

Marie Collins provides a concrete agenda for the upcoming abuse summit

Pope Francis has repeatedly voiced support for hearing more from women in the Church. According to Crux (Jan. 31) this week he and the Vatican were offered advice from prominent survivor of clerical sexual abuse Marie Collins. In fact the sturdy Irishwoman, who was appointed by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014 — but resigned in 2017, citing Vatican resistance to reform — in one fell swoop has provided a more concrete agenda for the Pope’s upcoming abuse summit than any Vatican statement so far.

Most recently, Pope Francis has merely said, “We have to deflate expectations” for the Feb. 21-24 Vatican meeting. His comment left Church-watchers mostly scratching their heads over why a global-scale meeting on a crucial topic would seemingly be planned to be underwhelming and ineffective.

Marie Collins, on the other hand, submitted to the summit organizers seven recommendations for the bishops to consider:

-Agree on a clear definition of what constitutes sexual abuse of a minor.

-Agree on a clear definition of the term “zero tolerance.”

-Review church law on the abuse of vulnerable adults, separating it from the abuse of minors.

-Universal safeguarding measures across the Catholic Church need to be agreed to and put in place.

-The requirements set in place by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith for a local safeguarding policy to receive approval should also be circulated to the participants and published.

-It should be clearly stated to the participants at the meeting the process by which a negligent bishop or other church leader will be brought to justice within the institution.

-A commitment should also be announced to make any guilty verdicts in regard to members of church leadership public and this should include any such past findings.

Collins wants Church leaders to “move forward efficient and effective means” for protecting minors. She points out that the “vagueness of the canon law in regard to abuse” has left church courts hamstrung.

Collins recognizes that many have asked that the summit also cover vulnerable adults. She is adamant that abuse of children is fundamentally different and must be dealt with separately. “There should be no confusion between the two forms of abuse. Methods to deal with cases involving vulnerable adults need to be developed independently,” she believes. This makes sense.

Regarding accountability, Collins asks what process is to hold bishops accountable: “Who is investigating? Who are the judges? What are the penalties being imposed?” Her common-sense advice continues, “This procedure should also be published as the secrecy surrounding it increases the perception that there is no process in place.” Surely it’s fair to say most people believe there is no process in place. Finally, Collins says the Vatican should make known which church leaders have been found guilty, and their crimes and punishment made public. Hear, hear.

Following through on these few items would elicit hope and perhaps even praise from all corners. Why, oh why, can’t the Vatican just do it?

A Catholic World News round-up (Jan. 28) of the Pope’s in-flight press conference reports Francis saying the Vatican abuse meeting would be devoted to “giving a catechesis on this problem to the bishops’ conferences.” Before resolving the problem, he says, “we need to become conscious of it.” He believes some bishops’ conferences still lack an adequate understanding of the problem. If that is true, then some differentiated instruction is called for. The bishops of Europe, North America, and South America already know what abuse is. Boy, do they know.


Barbara E. Rose is Web Editor of the NOR.

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