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Pope's meeting with sex abuse victims’ important step towards healing

July 10, 2014

The meetings Pope Francis held this week with six survivors of sexual abuse were an “important and very positive” step on the road towards healing and better child protection in the Catholic Church. That’s according to an Irish abuse victim who now serves on the Vatican’s new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

As a 13 year old girl, Marie Collins was abused by a hospital chaplain, who was then protected by his archbishop and went on to abuse and rape other children over a period of 30 years. This week she was in the Vatican to accompany one of the six abuse survivors from the Ireland, Germany and the UK for Mass and a series of private encounters with Pope Francis at his Santa Marta residence.

Philippa Hitchen sat down with Marie to hear her impressions following the Monday morning meetings:

“It was wonderful to see the Pope listening so intently and the survivor to feel heard and have the opportunity to say everything they wanted to say…..what I was most impressed about the meeting was the fact the Pope gave so much time, there was no hurry….and I spoke to most of the survivors as they came out from their meetings and the general feeling was they felt they had said what they wanted to say and had been heard….

No matter how much you know about abuse, or you read about it in theory, I think sitting across from a survivor who’s telling you what abuse has done to their life and their family, how devastating it all is, it must be emotional and I certainly observed the Pope reacting to what he was being told and I think it must have been a hugely emotional morning for himself as well as for the survivors…

Speaking personally as an individual survivor, I have always campaigned on accountability, because you can have strong protection policies …but if the person who’s supposed to be implementing them decides to ignore them and protect an abuser and there’s no sanction for that person, then they’re worthless… what I heard the Pope say was very important and very positive…..We know there are abusers in every walk of life, but the difference about the Church and what has made this crisis so scandalous is that perpetrators were protected…….

I feel the Pope was giving an example to other bishops and archbishops around the world as to what they should be doing…..not just (hearing) a group of survivors, but sitting down and listening to personal stories, one-to-one…’s a win-win situation, for survivors it can be very healing but also from the point of view of the clerical side, they learn more about the effects and that can help in dealing with it too…

As a survivor myself, I understand the anger that’s out there, but I would not have been supporting a survivor if I thought they were being exploited in any way or being used by the Church for a PR exercise…”


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