10 December 2013, The Tablet

Vatican’s abuse commission – ten years too late but here’s how to give it credibility

by Marie Collins

The news that the Vatican is to set up a commission focused on safeguarding children and caring for victims of abuse is welcome. I would have been more impressed if it had been set up ten years ago as it certainly should. It was obvious by then that the clerical child sexual abuse crisis was not just isolated to one or two countries and it was not going to go away. No amount of defensive statements or words of apology were going to tackle the problem, prevent further abuse or help those survivors who needed justice and healing.

Now that the Vatican is setting up this commission my hope is that it will not turn out to be a false dawn. That we will see real, practical measures put in place to ensure the safety of children and bring the needed peace and justice to those who have been hurt.

If there is to be lasting progress then the right people have to be chosen as members of this commission. We have had too many decisions made within the Church by those whose priority has been the protection of the institution rather than the protection of children. We have had too many speak for the Church using words which have hurt rather than healed survivors. This must be an end to that.

On my wishlist for the membership would first be the Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna. He has experience of handling abuse cases from around the world from his time as Promoter of Justice in the Vatican. During that time he showed a strong commitment to convincing bishops that they must deal properly with cases of abuse in their diocese. I believe he would bring this commitment to the commission.

Next would be Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who has received worldwide praise from survivor organisations for the way in which he has dealt with the issue in his diocese. He has experience of helping adult survivors in large numbers of past cases. He has also set up procedures for co-operating with the civil authorities on past and current cases. He has developed strong child protection policies and practices in his diocese. He would bring this practical experience at diocesan level to the commission.

I also feel there should be a representative of survivors of clerical sexual abuse on the commission. No matter how many experts you have, no one knows better what is needed by survivors than themselves.

Finally, if this commission is to have credibility and achieve real change then it must be in a position to make bishops accountable. What is the point of this commission enacting new safeguarding policies or healing procedures if those charged with their implementation are in a position to ignore them without sanction? To achieve credibility the Church must ensure accountability. Without it there is no guarantee the mistakes of the past will not continue into the future and more innocents suffer.

Marie Collins, abuse survivor and campaigner

Read The Tablet's interview with Marie Collins when she addressed the first and only symposium on abuse in Rome.

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User comments (3)

Comment by: SisterMaureen
Posted: 13/12/2013 16:08:15

"The new commission is expected to tell church officials to collaborate with civil authorities and report cases of abuse," O'Malley said. Is this a decision that calls for a papal commission? The hierarchy has already exhausted its credibility and moral authority through its actions these past decades and neither will be regained by having the ecclesiastical body responsible for covering up the scandal charged with either its evaluation or correction. That has not worked well since 2002. Moreover, statement like those quoted above seem ludicrous given the nature of the violation; crimes against the humanity of children. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish Advocate for Victim/Survivors & Legislative Reform 25-E Highland Blvd. New Castle, Delaware 19720 [email protected]

Comment by: davidb
Posted: 12/12/2013 16:58:18

this commission risks being just another talking shop. unless and until the cardinals/bishops whose negligence or criminality and failure to act caused this scandal are dismissed or publicly reprimanded, it will be a waste of time. so many souls have been lost, not only victims and their families but also of the population at large. how can you speak of the new evangelization when the folks who are expected to lead it are stained with years of molestation of innocent children and its cover-up?

Comment by: Sara_tms_again
Posted: 12/12/2013 13:33:07

I recognise that the writer is enormously courageous: she had the courage to address a Vatican synod on this matter where a number of bishops were avowedly struggling even to admit that clerical abuse actually happens, despite the widespread evidence. However, I really don't think Scicluna would be a good choice for the commission. I paste a quote below from a report in the National Catholic Reporter of his words to a recent Californian Canon Lawyers conference: "The other thing is the courage to tell victims to move on," he said. "Unfortunately, some victims create a persona out of being victims. And that I find is so sad because if my persona is that 'I am a survivor,' is that the only meaning that I have? Is that my only worth, as being a survivor? We need as a community to help victims to find a bigger, a greater dignity." Abuse survivors commenting on the site highlighted how hugely unhelpful this view is. I'm not a survivor myself, but I have friends who are, and the very last thing they need is the institution which abused them, sometimes several times over in different ways, telling them to 'Move on'. Being a survivor is a badge of honour. The survivor has often struggled through the valley of death, sometimes for twenty, thirty, forty years, and chosen to preach the Gospel of Life to us by surviving. We should hear their witness in humility and silence, not silence them all over again. Martin good, Sean O'Malley better. But mostly lay experts and esp. women.

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