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Abuse victim tells bishops of her suffering

By on Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Marie Collins, right, with Baroness Hollins (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Marie Collins, right, with Baroness Hollins (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

An Irish clerical abuse victim has told a gathering of bishops about her experiences at the hands of a hospital chaplain during an unprecedented Vatican conference on abuse.

Marie Collins, who was abused at the age of 13 by a hospital chaplain in Dublin, told an audience at the Gregorian University in Rome: “Those fingers that would abuse my body the night before were the next morning holding and offering me the Sacred Host. The hands that held the camera to photograph my exposed body, in the light of day were holding a prayer book when he came to hear my confession.”

Mrs Collins said “there must be acknowledgment and accountability for the harm and destruction that has been done to the life of victims”, calling for a strengthening of Church policies to avoid what she called the “deliberate cover-up and mishandling of cases”.

She was speaking during a four-day symposium attended by representatives of 110 bishops’ conferences and 30 religious orders, which included a penitential vigil to show contrition for the sexual abuse of children by priests and for the actions of Catholic officials who shielded the perpetrators from justice.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, presided over the vigil on Tuesday.

The conference, “Toward Healing and Renewal”, launched a global initiative aimed at improving efforts to stop clerical sexual abuse and better protect children and vulnerable adults.

The symposium was held at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and was supported by the Vatican Secretariat of State and several other Vatican offices.

During the penitential vigil, held in Rome’s St Ignatius church, a “very profound, clear and explicit” text was read, in the words of Jesuit Fr Hans Zollner, a licenced psychologist and psychotherapist and one of the symposium organisers.

Seven individuals from the Church who represent groups who have been “guilty or negligent” asked for forgiveness both from God and victims.

Mrs Collins said one of the reasons that abuse victims are still so hurt and angered is that, “despite apologies for the actions of the abusers, there have been few apologies for the protection given them by their superiors”.

She said: “There seems to be a lack of penalty for any of these men in leadership who deliberately or negligently covered up for abusers, allowing them to continue to abuse unhindered.”

She added that “we have had apologies, but forgiveness is a part of Christianity, a part of the Catholic Church” that is so important.

Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with priests accused of abuse, gave the symposium’s opening address, and Pope Benedict XVI delivered a message to be read to symposium participants. Among the other speakers were mental health professionals who have worked in the areas of prevention and treatment, and bishops from around the world, who talked about responses to the abuse crisis in their countries.

The conference was designed in part to help bishops’ conferences and superiors of religious orders respond to a 2011 circular letter from the doctrinal congregation requiring all dioceses in the world to develop guidelines on handling allegations of abuse.

After the conference, the Gregorian University and other institutions will launch an e-learning centre – the Centre for the Protection of Children – which will offer online resources in five languages.

The centre will be based in Munich and is designed to help Church leaders respond pastorally to the issue of sexual abuse in the Church and society as a whole. The centre has been funded for an initial three-year period and received significant funding directly from Pope Benedict through the Papal Foundation.

  • Anonymous

    I’m reminded of the brave words of the archbishop of Westminster:

    Catholics are
    members of a single universal body. These terrible crimes, and the inadequate
    response by some church leaders, grieve us all. We express our heartfelt
    apology and deep sorrow to those who have suffered abuse, those who have felt
    ignored, disbelieved or betrayed. We ask their pardon, and the pardon of God
    for these terrible deeds done in our midst. There can be no excuses.

    He got it right in asking for our pardon, but can you ask for pardon without the practical intention of making amends? To date we have to fight every step of the way until we come to the wall of litigation, before which we are powerless. It’s all very well setting up a centre in Munich to be run by the German Jesuits.  They have some experience the matter, and they’re currently fighting a rearguard action against some 200 acknowledged victims who have been offered 2’500 euros each.

    Our bishops would do well to avoid expensive trips to Rome, and step out into the street outside their front door.  They will meet victims who can hardly articulate their pain, who need practical help to make their needs known rather than be beaten off, made to jump through adminstrative hoops, or lose themselves in moral mazes.

    I admire Mrs Collins and understand her desire for those who protected abusers to be brought to account. However, I’m more interested in the practicalities of what can be done to meet our present needs.  They can be defined and costed. Skilled professional help is needed.

  • Anonymous

    A decent post, but my opinion is that the whole institution needs to step out into reality. How else can real progress be made? All I see is pretend apologies for crimes that, let’s pretend, were really the fault of homosexuals, or secularists, or heretics, or hippies, or lawyers, or anybody else that it feels comfortable to blame, even the victims themselves! For institutions that are are not constrained by inconvenient evidence, it’s easy to play let’s-pretend.

  • Anonymous

    Heads need to roll. Particularly of those who are highest up – it is not right that priests should be imprisoned, when the men responsible for making them able to offend get off scot-free. If a Cardinal is guilty, he should go to the slammer ASAP, just as any of the plebs would, if they were found guilty. There cannot be different moral codes for different members of society or of the Church: not unless the organisation wants to make itself an incoherent & irrelevant train-wreck. The higher the rank & position to influence others, the greater the duty to be responsible for what one does.  Simples.

  • Anonymous

    I agree.  There is a solution. It is said the bishops can only be punished by the pope because he’s the one who appointed them.  This view is unscriptural, and the church as a whole has the answer. They can refuse to bow to the authority of the people who have seized power, who in fact only have power because they say they have it.  They have lost all credibility. John-Paul has a lot to answer for. He systematically decapitated the latin-american churches, particularly the Brazilian Church, where charismatic, heroic and frequently leaders prepared for martyrdom, took common cause with the oppressed. JP listened to the calumnies of the ultra-rightist militarist, and appointed placemen. Nature and the 75 year rule (doesn’t apply to geriatric popes) did the rest.Thus a shining image of what the church could and should be was lost. A simple action: since bishops in England are avoiding making amends and engaging in expensive litigation using the faithful’s money, don’t give them any more. At the very least earmark and ring-fence contributions

  • Anonymous

    In terms that Jesus would have understood, before the moderator gets me. Stop saying sorry. Say “We shall make amends” You see, when you brainwash little children to make their first, meaningless, confession they say: firm purpose of amendment. What does that mean? Well some of the abused are in their seventies.  Not worth bothering with. Younger? Make them go through the courts. Per omnia secula seculorum. Amen. Sounds of bleating.  The shepherds. not the sheep

  • Anonymous

    Feel angry? Just a bit. Happened in 1947, so life expectancy a year or two, not 75, or  till I drop, pope.
    Firm purpose of amendment? Good idea. Hello. Anyone listening?

  • Anonymous

    There is a very telling interview with Cardinal Egan here in which he admits, in effect, that his apology regarding abuse victims was a pretence. It was Pope John Paul II who elevated Edward Egan to cardinal, and Pope Benedict XVI seems to consider him worthy of that position (as with some other discredited cardinals). I think that says all that needs to be said about the integrity of RCC authority, though a lot more could be said in the same vein.

    To refuse to bow to that authority is one option, but if authority does not bend, does that not mean withdrawal from the Roman Catholic Church (TM) with the villains still at the Vatican and still colluding globally with politicians (such as the British delegation of ministers due there shortly)? Mere non-co-operation is not sufficient; active opposition would be better. If more Catholics realised that secularism is not the evil that the Pope portrays, but is a philosophy that would protect Catholics and non-Catholics equally in accordance with the law of the land, then support for secularism by Catholics might undermine Vatican authority.

  • Anon

    ( I may say that cross referencing with the article concerning exorcism aids clarity)

  • Anonymous

    “If more Catholics realised that secularism is not the evil that the Pope portrays, but is a philosophy that would protect Catholics and non-Catholics equally in accordance with the law of the land, then support for secularism by Catholics might undermine Vatican authority.”

    Drivel.  Secularism is a system that rejects God, and tries to demote Him to the insides of Christian homes and churches.  It is no better than atheism, which is trying to achieve the same effect.  As such, Catholics are duty-bound to oppose secularism tooth and nail, and prevent it from gaining any power in the land.
    In this respect, secularism would no more protect Catholics than would atheism, and indeed if and when it is allowed to frame our laws it would actively persecute the Church for daring to oppose it.  The authority of the Vatican MUST prevail if our country is to retain any semblance of being civilised.

  • Anonymous

    “And even an apology is not enough – there has to be reparation, &
    conversion from evil, & repentance, & genuine, efficacious
    contrition. Fine words aren’t enough, neither are shame and
    embarrassment & revulsion.”

    Conversion from evil?  I have news for you, Parasum.
    Paedophilia and all other disordered sexual conditions will be features of the human condition until the end of time.  Like the poor, they will always be with us, in the Church as much as in society at large.  It is pretentious daydreaming to suppose that  there will be a time when paedophilia is totally eliminated from the body of the Church, and no more cases of CSA will arise.
    The best we can do and hope for is to punish severely any miscreant who surfaces, and then move on, hoping that the next case will be a long time coming.  Our fallen human nature is such that evil, in all its forms, will be ever-present in the Church’s members, just as it will always be there in society.
    There will always be victims of these fallen priests, and many a Marie Collins in the future.  Just as Our Lord predicted.

  • Anonymous

    “Secularism is a system that rejects God, and tries to demote Him to the insides of Christian homes and churches.”

    Secularism is the separation of religion and state. It is not the destruction of religion by state; it is the protection of the freedom of individuals to follow their religion, providing that in doing so, those individuals are not causing harm to those of other religions or none. It makes no statement about God, so how is that rejecting God?

     “It is no better than atheism, which is trying to achieve the same effect.”

    What do you think atheism is trying to achieve, given that all it is is the lack of belief in deities? It may be that some atheists promote secularism. That would be because those atheists are also active secularists.

    “As such, Catholics are duty-bound to oppose secularism tooth and nail, and prevent it from gaining any power in the land.”

    That is liken saying that Catholics are duty-bound to oppose fairness tooth and nail, and prevent it from gaining any power in the land. It is clear from your post that it is you who does not want fairness, you want superiority and power, and for no valid reason. How despicable!

    “In this respect, secularism would no more protect Catholics than would atheism, and indeed if and when it is allowed to frame our laws it would actively persecute the Church for daring to oppose it.”

    Lawful Catholics would be protected, and secularism would prevent any laws specifically directed at particular religions. A law, for example, against deliberately covering up paedophilia would apply to all, not just to Catholics.

    “The authority of the Vatican MUST prevail if our country is to retain any semblance of being civilised.”

    In promoting the proliferation of human life in an overpopulated world, the Vatican is bringing about the destruction of civilisation. Their attitude to the victims of priestly child abuse is the opposite of civilised. The thirst for power that you describe opposes civilisation. The opposition to science holds back civilisation. The deliberate interference with attempts to bring views on morality into line with the latest knowledge harms civilisation. In fact, the Vatican is one of the biggest threats to civilisation.

  • Parasum

    Try reading the Gospel, even the NT or the Prophets - the Bible, in both Testaments, has a lot to say about the need for conversion. If the CC doesn’t know that, or, worse still, denies it, then it is no Church. Man is not at liberty to decide that the terms upon which God will receive sinners are to be revised – & there is nothing you, or I, or the Church can do about it. (As Cardinal Newman makes very clear in his Catholic writings.) A Church ignorant of the Bible is unlikely to know what God requires of sinners. But only God’s terms, which are revealed in the Bible, matter.

    No conversion = impenitence - which is a very bad idea indeed; impenitence leads to Hell.  So not being converted while the time of grace is still given to us, is worse than deadly.  Or are we to think that God is not Righteous & Christ is Unrighteous, & will not avenge those who have suffered so greatly ! He will do so, for sure – and the Bible makes clear that the Wrath of God is terrible. Everything in the Bible underlines man’s need of conversion from evil, and to God, and the necessity of repentance. No earthly status in Church or state can take their place.

  • Parasum

    I saw that. In fairness to Card. Egan, “pretence” is perhaps too strong a word. But he certainly does not seem to have sense of moral responsibility  for what happened. ISTM that he has not got a clue about just how serious and how ruinous all of this has been.

    IMO, there may be a “dialogue of the deaf” here - his attitude is mystifying; & he may think that of those of us are sick & tired of the hierarchy’s moral blindness have an equally mystifying attitude.

    Christ is better and greater than the Church & our hearts – the Church is full of rotteness, as are the souls of all men; but He is altogether Holy. And as He cannot be deceived, He can save the Church from all its idolatries & corruptions; which it is powerless to do – as are we. The Church is nothing without Him, for we, who are the Church, are nothing without Him. No authority that crosses His can have any validity – not even that of the Church; which is meaningless & useless without Him. So, no contest.

  • Parasum

    And don’t just say – do ! Action is the test of genuine sorrow for sin. To quote from the Book of Common Prayer:

    AND, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days.

    http://www.episcopalnet.org/1928bcp/FBSEP.html

  • Anonymous

    Nothing you have posted alters in any way the main point of my previous comment: Paedophilia and all other disordered sexual conditions will be features of the human condition until the end of time.  Like the poor, they will always be with us, in the Church as much as in society at large.”
    The necessity of repentance is indeed essential, but the fact remains that such afflicted sinners are mired in a satanic evil, an evil that they actually protest is natural for them, and for which they must not be required to repent. The Church does indeed know this, and most certainly does not deny it.  That is why she employs exorcists in her service, to root out and destroy this evil that holds so many men in its grip.

  • andHarry

    It would be a good start if Benedict were to couple his apologies with a declaration that cardinals at their installation would no longer be required to take a vow to keep secret all those things which might bring dishonour to the Church, i.e. the hierarchy. It has a most disturbing effect on those who take it – instance, Cardinal Egan. 

  • Charles Martel

    Parasum
    I notice you quote from the Book of Common Prayer. Are you an Anglican? I am genuinely puzzled. You support keeping abortion legal (yes, abortion, which is an ‘abominable crime’ (VII), so obviously you are not a Catholic.