Pope has chance to change church's response to scandal, campaigner says

By Caroline O'Doherty
Senior Reporter

Pope Francis faces a 'turning point' in his papacy where he has an opportunity to change the Catholic Church's response to clerical child sex abuse for good, campaigner Marie Collins has said.

Ms Collins, a former member of a Vatican commission on child protection, was speaking in advance of a meeting in Rome to which the Pope has summoned around 100 bishops from all over the world.

The four-day summit which begins on Thursday is the first time a Pope has called such a large group of senior clergy together to discuss the protection of children in the Church.

Pope Francis is seen to have set the tone for the meeting by defrocking former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick who stepped down from his position last year amid allegations of sex abuse against children and young seminarians.

He retained his status as a priest until the weekend when he was formally laicised - the first cardinal to be defrocked for sexual misconduct in modern times.

Ms Collins, herself a survivor of clerical sexual abuse as a child, said the move was welcome but should have been taken much earlier. "It's a step in the right direction," she told RTÉ Radio. "It's very late in that his behaviour was known about decades ago."

She said she same action should be taken against any cleric who abused and she said that should be the foremost thought going into this week's summit.

The main thing that most victims' advocacy organisations are asking for is that zero tolerance is put into the law of the Church, canon law. In other words, any cleric who is found guilty of abusing a minor will be removed from the clerical state, will no longer be a priest. The Pope has promised that but it has not been happening.

Ms Collins, who resigned her position on the commission in frustration at the lack of action on its recommendations, also said the Church's response needed to be uniform across the world.

"The Church, when it has been forced to react in countries where there has been a big upheaval and the crisis has become public, they have reacted by putting in the right processes, the right procedures, but in other countries around the world they haven't done that.

"It's not as if the Church has to reinvent the wheel. They have got policies in place like the American and Irish one. They say there are cultural differences but there is nothing to stop clerics in every part of the world having to be kept to a particular standard."

Ms Collins said the most recent scandal - over the abuse of nuns by priests - was also down to the Church's negligence. "It is a crisis of their own making in that they have known about these problems for decades," she said. "They have kicked the can down the road but eventually you come to the end of the road and you have a pile of cans to deal with."

She added: "This meeting could be a turning point. It could be the point where the Church shows that it is going to grasp the nettle, take the actions that are needed, concrete solid actions - no more promises, no more words - but it's very much up in the air as to whether this is going to happen or not. And it will affect Pope Francis's legacy for sure."

Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, will represent the Church in Ireland at the summit which will also be attended by heads of religious orders and senior Vatican officials.

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