Campaigner and abuse survivor Marie Collins has called on Pope Francis to face down the senior clerics in the Vatican who are resisting change in the Catholic Church’s response to perpetrators and their victims.
Ms Collins said only a clear-out of those who were blocking reform would make a difference to survivors and ensure the safety of children within the Church.
Having served on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors set up as an advisory group by Pope Francis, she quit last year in frustration at the refusal of the Vatican to act on its recommendations.
Ms Collins said she didn’t know who in the curia — the Vatican’s governing body — was driving the resistance but said that was no excuse for Pope Francis not to act.
It must be known in the Vatican who the people are who are resisting this,” she said.
“The Pope must know who they are. It’s these people who must be dismissed, and dismissed immediately.
“The Pope has got powers over and above everybody else and he really needs to face down this resistance.”
Ms Collins was speaking at the World Meeting of Families at a session on safeguarding children, which was due to have been attended by the chair of the pontifical commission, Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
Cardinal O’Malley pulled out of the engagement after being caught up in controversy in his native US over his office’s failure to act on warnings of sexual offending by the now retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Ms Collins’ calls were heard by an audience of several hundred but the attendance appeared sparse in a pavilion set up for more than 6,000.
She said there were still people in the Church, both clergy and laity, who refused to believe that abuse was a major problem.
There are people who prefer to believe that all this is a media conspiracy, just survivors trying to destroy the Church, and they deny and they defend,” she said.
“I’m hoping that at this point, where they wouldn’t believe survivors, they will at least believe the Pope,” said Ms Collins, referring to the open letter Pope Francis
issued to all Catholics last week, acknowledging the gravity of the issue.
“I hope they will take their energies from defending the indefensible, accept the truth and instead of denial, put their energy into bringing about the changes that are needed.”
Those changes included a policy of zero-tolerance towards abusers and those who shielded them, plus the establishment of an effective Church court with strong sanctions for the guilty, including dismissal from posts, removal of titles and privileges, and if necessary their removal from the clergy and even the Church entirely.
“If canon law at this moment doesn’t allow for that to happen, then write a new canon law,” she said.
She urged not just victims, but everyone in the Church, to ask the leadership why this was not happening.
Sheila Hollins from Britain, who finished her term with the Pontifical Commission earlier this year, agreed that it had been frustrating to see its recommendations ignored.
There is still considerable denial about the extent and nature of the problem in many countries,” Ms Hollins said.
Barbara Thorp, former head of the Office for Child Protection in the Boston Archdiocese, contrasted the world’s response to abused children to the way in which people had been gripped by the plight of the Thai football team trapped in a cave earlier this year.
The latter had brought a swift international response, with people willing to put their lives on the line to save the young boys.
“Such urgency and bold resolve must be the laser-like determination that guides the Church,” she said.
Another panel member, Prof Gabriel Dy-Liacco, a member of the pontifical commission and a therapist who treats both abuser priests and victims, said he had major concerns for children in countries where stories of abuse had not yet hit the headlines.
He said the revelations of abuse had come from countries with a free press and democracy and he feared for what may be happening in many African and Asian nations.
An international umbrella group of survivors’ organisations later questioned the relevance of the pontifical commission and said Cardinal O’Malley should step down from it.
Ending Clergy Abuse, ECA, which was set up in the last year, represents groups in 18 countries.
Peter Isely, a founding member of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, in the US, said the commission had been worthless so far but he added that it might become effective with the right leadership and he said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin might make a good replacement for Cardinal O’Malley.
Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer, former priest, and victims advocate, said the problems in the Church lay not with the 1.15bn followers but the 2,800 bishops who controlled it.
“They are obsessed with their own images, their own future, their own presence, and display strong disdain for anyone who’s going to upset their security, namely the victims of their own abuse,” he said.