Pope Francis should rid the Catholic Church of “every rotten apple” and announce concrete measures against sexual abuse by the clergy during his visit to Ireland, a prominent Irish victim told AFP.
Marie Collins, who resigned from a Vatican commission on child protection last year over its failure to take action, said in an interview that the pontiff had to tackle the issue “head on”.
“Every rotten apple should be got rid of and it should happen now,” Collins said on the sidelines of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, ahead of the pope’s visit to Ireland which starts Saturday.
Collins was assaulted by a priest as a 13-year-old while she was in a hospital — one of thousands of victims in Ireland, where abuse scandals have badly dented the Catholic Church’s standing.
“Coming to Ireland, where we have such a history of abuse and so many have had their lives destroyed, it is important that while he is here this issue is addressed, and addressed face on, and we get clear words as to what he’s going to do,” said Collins, now 71.
Many ordinary Irish Catholics were “waiting to see this whole issue dealt with properly” and if it is not, “more people are just going to give up in despair and walk away”, she said.
‘Fear of how deep it goes’
Collins welcomed a letter from Pope Francis this week condemning the “atrocities” revealed by a far-reaching US report into child sex abuse by priests in the state of Pennsylvania.
But she said the words of the leader of the world’s billion-plus Catholics did not go far enough.
“It didn’t give any concrete statements about what he was actually going to do,” she said, calling for some “real sanctions” against those who perpetrate and cover up abuse.
“The reluctance to look into things properly and to behave properly is the fear of how deep it goes, how far it goes and how wide it goes.
“There is this mistaken idea that if we don’t look at it, it will go away,” she said.
‘He could do no wrong’
Collins had just celebrated her 13th birthday when she was assaulted by a priest, according to an account she gave at a Vatican symposium on abuse in 2012.
The priest — “a skilled child molester” in her words — began visiting her in the evenings while she lay in a hospital bed in Dublin.
“When he began to sexually interfere with me, pretending at first he was being playful, I was shocked and resisted, telling him to stop. He did not stop,” she said.
“While assaulting me, he would respond to my resistance by telling me he was a priest, he could do no wrong,” she recalled.
“He took photographs of the most private parts of my body and told me I was stupid if I thought it was wrong. He had power over me. I did not know how to tell anyone. I just prayed he would not do it again — but he did.
“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.
“When I left the hospital I was not the same child who had entered,” she said.
End Vatican ‘resistance’
After years of treatment for mental illness brought on by feelings of guilt, Collins finally told a doctor about the abuse when she was 47.
He persuaded her to tell the Church about it, but when Collins met with her parish priest, she says he refused to listen and blamed her.
“He said he saw no need to report the chaplain. He told me what happened was probably my fault. This response shattered me,” she said.
A decade later while reading news about a serial paedophile priest Collins realised that other children might have been damaged by the same priest who hurt her and she again spoke up.
The priest was eventually prosecuted and jailed, and Collins has since become a leading voice in Ireland pushing for justice for victims.
Collins on Friday said only the pope could end Vatican “resistance”, even if this meant removing people in high office.
“Every day children are being abused. So every day that goes by… more and more children are being harmed when they don’t need to be harmed.”