Pontifical commission on clergy abuse expresses 'strong support' for Marie Collins

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis’ commission on clergy sexual abuse has expressed its “strong support” for a former member of the group who resigned earlier this month due to frustration with Vatican officials' reluctance to cooperate with its work to protect children.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said in a statement late Sunday that the resignation of abuse survivor Marie Collins had been “a central topic” of their discussions during their plenary assembly, held in Rome March 24-26.

“Commission members expressed strong support for her and her continuing work to promote healing for victims of abuse and the prevention of all abuse of minors and vulnerable adults,” said the statement.

Collins, who had been the last active member of the commission who is an abuse survivor, resigned March 1.

In an article for NCR that day, Collins highlighted the Vatican’s failure to implement two measures Francis had approved on the commission’s recommendation: that there be creation of a new tribunal to judge bishops accused of acting inappropriately on sexual abuse, and that all Vatican offices respond to letters sent by abuse survivors.

In its statement Sunday, the commission mentioned the issue of the Vatican responding to abuse survivors, saying they would be sending “further recommendations” to Francis on the subject.

“Members agreed that acknowledging correspondence and giving a timely and personal response is one part of furthering transparency and healing,” said the statement.

The commission also said Sunday that its members “unanimously agreed to find new ways to ensure its work is shaped and informed with and by victims/survivors.” But it did not say whether the group would seek to recruit new members who are abuse survivors.

Before beginning its meeting over the weekend, the pontifical commission had hosted an education seminar for Vatican officials March 23. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the head of the commission, opened the event by pledging that Francis is still "thoroughly committed to rooting out the scourge of sex abuse."

But many of the Vatican officials in attendance -- including Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Marc Ouellet, Kevin Farrell, João Bráz de Aviz and Peter Turkson -- also heard strong words about the continuing abuse crisis.

Francis Sullivan, who has coordinated the Australian church’s response to a government commission investigating clergy sexual abuse, told the prelates that words about protecting children are not enough.

“It’s not enough to say, ‘We are putting victims first,’” Sullivan told the event. “And it is not enough to say, ‘We will listen.’ Words are not going to do it. Actions do it.”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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