In 2014, Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, an autonomous advisory body meant to "promote the protection of the dignity of minors and vulnerable adults" in the wake of the Catholic Church's clergy sexual abuse scandals. Marie Collins, an Irish clergy abuse survivor, was appointed to serve on the commission that year. On March 1st, Collins announced her resignation from the commission, having grown frustrated with an intractable Vatican Curia.
In a statement posted at the National Catholic Reporter, Collins listed several "stumbling blocks" that impeded the work of the commission, including "lack of resources, inadequate structures around support staff, slowness of forward movement and cultural resistance", as well as "reluctance of some members of the Vatican Curia to implement the recommendations of the Commission despite their approval by the pope." She condemned members of the Vatican Curia for failing to work alongside the commission and implement its recommendations, including its suggestion that Vatican officials respond to all clergy abuse victim correspondence.
"The reluctance of some in the Vatican Curia to implement recommendations or cooperate with the work of a commission when the purpose is to improve the safety of children and vulnerable adults around the world is unacceptable.
Is this reluctance driven by internal politics, fear of change, clericalism which instills a belief that 'they know best' or a closed mindset which sees abuse as an inconvenience or a clinging to old institutional attitudes?
I do not know the answer but it is devastating in 2017 to see that these men still can put other concerns before the safety of children and vulnerable adults.
The last straw for me, on top of the refusal to cooperate on the Safeguarding Guidelines, has been the refusal, by the same dicastery, to implement one of the simplest recommendations the Commission has put forward to date.
Last year at our request, the pope instructed all departments in the Vatican to ensure all correspondence from victims/survivors receives a response. I learned in a letter from this particular dicastery last month that they are refusing to do so.
I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters! It is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the Church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.
When I accepted my appointment to the Commission in 2014, I said publicly that if I found what was happening behind closed doors was in conflict with what was being said to the public I would not remain. This point has come. I feel I have no choice but to resign if I am to retain my integrity."
In response to Collins resignation letter, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, rejected the idea that the Vatican could reply to every piece of victim correspondence. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Cardinal Muller told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper that it was a "misunderstanding" to assume that his department "could deal with all the dioceses and religious orders in the world." Local clergy should respond to victim correspondence, he explained, claiming that a Vatican response would undermine "the legitimate principle of diocesan autonomy and subsidiarity".
Melanie Jula Sakoda, East Bay Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), expressed the organization's frustration with the Vatican in a March 1st press release.
"We share Marie Collins’ justifiable frustration with the “shameful resistance” of Vatican officials to changes in procedures that would protect children. Instead, of implementing changes that would have a direct effect on curtailing the abuse crisis, the Curia continues to set up roadblocks.
While we admire Ms. Collins’ generous offer to continue to work with the Vatican to educate Church leaders on abuse, we believe that the clear answer to eradicating this crisis remains outside of the Church hierarchy. Victims, witnesses and whistle blowers need to continue speaking out publicly, and police, prosecutors and secular authorities need to continue holding Church officials accountable for both criminal conduct and for the cover up of those crimes."
Collins' resignation from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, as well as revelations that Pope Francis reduced church sanctions against sexually abusive priests, is leading many to question how seriously the Vatican is taking clergy abuse. The Catholic Church has had years to implement policies meant to protect children, with no shortage of input from survivors and professionals, but it continues to drag its feet.
Was the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors meant to bring about change, or was its creation all for show? When will the Vatican finally get serious about protecting its congregants and holding clergy perpetrators accountable?