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In Fighting Abuse By Members Of Catholic Church Clergy, Victim Sees Resistance To Change


Has the Catholic Church made enough progress in fighting abuse by its priests? That question has renewed urgency after George Pell became the highest-ranking member of the clergy to be formally charged. Cardinal Pell of Australia is a close adviser to the pope. He's been charged with sexual assault. He says he's innocent. Police in Melbourne aren't releasing the details of his accusers.

Joining us to talk about the case from Dublin and the broader questions it raises is Marie Collins. She was until recently on a papal commission dealing with the sexual abuse of children by clergy. Thanks for being with us.

MARIE COLLINS: Glad to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So please remind us of your story. How did this come to be an issue in your life?

COLLINS: Well, I was abused by a priest when I was a child. And it caused me a great deal of difficulty with my life afterwards. I had a lot of problems with anxiety and depression.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How old were you when it happened?

COLLINS: I had just turned 13. I was in a children's hospital. And the priest who assaulted me was the Catholic chaplain of the hospital. And he also took indecent photographs, which had a lasting effect on me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You were one of two sexual abuse survivors on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Yet you resigned March 1. Can you tell us why?

COLLINS: I did because I accepted the appointment to the commission in the hope that the church was really beginning to show, you know, a sincere wish to change. And after three years, I resigned on some specific issues. But, basically, it was the resistance from some quarters in the Vatican to actually change.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does it surprise you that someone as high up as Cardinal Pell has been accused?

COLLINS: It doesn't, really. I mean, I have obviously no view on his guilt or innocence. But, I mean, abuse can be perpetrated by anybody in any walk of life. And rank does not guarantee that somebody will not be an abuser of children.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think it says about how much progress the Catholic Church has made in fighting abuse by the clergy?

COLLINS: I think it shows progress in one area. And that is that civil authorities now are not reluctant to charge any member of the clergy. There's not that deference there was in the past. And that's a good change. As far as the actual church itself, there is still a reluctance. I mean, even in this case, the church guidelines themselves - most guidelines say that if a priest is accused of abuse, he must step down from his position on the accusation, must be investigated. But the accusations against Cardinal Pell were known months ago. And yet he was allowed to remain in his position until he was actually charged.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've met with Pope Francis. How committed do you think he is to doing what's necessary?

COLLINS: Pope Francis has shown that he is behind doing the right thing, I think. And he has the right attitude. But when it comes to having to face his own Curia and resistance he has there, I don't think he has been strong enough.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And the Curia is the administrative...

COLLINS: The Curia is basically the civil servants, the bureaucrats. Although, this weekend we do see that he has replaced Cardinal Muller, who was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you tell us what that is for people who may not know?

COLLINS: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith deals with discipline within the church and doctrinal matters. But it also handles all cases of abuse and the disciplining of perpetrators of abuse, et cetera. So they are very much involved in actual cases of abuse that are brought to the church.

And Cardinal Muller's dicastery was the one that was resisting change. So that may be a sign that he's not going to take resistance anymore and will push harder. It's just that things seem to move so slowly in the church. And every day, children are at risk. So there really can't be any acceptance of slowness or defensiveness or old views that are long out of date.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Marie Collins, who recently resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. She joined us via Skype. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

COLLINS: Not at all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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